You may have seen County Lines and Cuckooing mentioned in the news lately. In particular the reports from Bedfordshire Police’s recent activity to disrupt the criminal practices, when four people were arrested and another four vulnerable people were thankfully safeguarded.
But what are County Lines and Cuckooing? The Children’s Society describe county lines as “when gangs and organised crime networks exploit children to sell drugs. Often these children are made to travel across counties and they use dedicated mobile phone ‘lines’ to supply drugs.” Whereas cuckooing is where a gang will take over the home of a vulnerable person to use as a base for drug dealing.
Now we’ve spoken to Bedfordshire Police to help spread the word. Parents need to know the signs that their own children might have been groomed to take part in county lines. Plus the reassurance, that those who have been coerced into carrying out activity for those gangs, will be protected if they come forward.
Detective Inspector Katie Dounias heads up the Human Trafficking, County Lines and Serious and Organised Crime unit at Bedfordshire Police, “these gangs are often violent and extremely intimidating. Not only do they exploit vulnerable people for their base, but they also target children and recruit them into their criminal network. We know of children not even in their teens yet who have been targeted by older dealers to start dealing drugs.”
Bedfordshire Police’s Operation Nola, which cracks down on County Lines, has arrested more than 20 people since it started in June and a number of people have since been safeguarded as a result. But the operation continues and the message to anyone abusing vulnerable people is clear, our police force will disrupt your network and bring you to justice within the full extent of the law.
Parents may be concerned, but it’s worth pointing out that this is not a widespread problem. That being said, everyone must be vigilant. Anyone with any connection to a child or vulnerable adult or people who may simply notice something odd. Perhaps a child on a train who appears too young to travel by themselves, or a vulnerable neighbour who seems to be behaving differently to normal. We can all look out for signs that someone is being exploited:
- Does the person have more than one phone, particularly older and cheaper handsets?
- Do they have large amounts of cash or suddenly have unexplained gifts like expensive clothes, trainers and jewellery?
- Do they have items associated with drug dealing on them or in their rooms, such as bags, cling film, rubber bands, digital scales, Vaseline and baby wipes?
- What language are they using, have slang words such as G-pack, traphouse, bando, nittys and boodge become part of their vocabulary?
Meanwhile people who are aware of a vulnerable adult living near by can help spot cuckooing:
- Have you not seen them in a while?
- Are there more people coming and going than before?
- Has their home become very messy?
- Are there more takeaway deliveries to their home than usual?
While the people coerced into county lines or cuckooing may be assisting with illegal activity, the law does protect them from prosecution. Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act provides a defence for people who are exploited in this way. Even vulnerable adults who have been exploited through a drug addiction, being promised drugs by the gangs or threatened in exchange for carrying out their demands, are viewed as victims and will receive help through the police and partner agencies like social services.
More details are in the interview with D.I. Dounias below, but if you think someone you know is being exploited or you have information about County Lines and Cuckooing, you can call 101 quoting operation Nola or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.