Skip to content

Starving, stinking, scared – the reality for young people exploited by county lines gangs

Trap house in Gloucestershire where teenagers were found by police. Pic credit: Gloucestershire Police

Young and vulnerable people are being exploited by drugs gangs in our communities. It’s happening right now, in Yeovil, Taunton, Weston-Super-Mare and other areas of Avon and Somerset, places often thought of as quiet towns. We need your help to protect them.

Detective Chief Inspector Kerry Paterson, Avon and Somerset Police’s force lead on county lines said: “County lines gangs based in big cities such as London and Birmingham, are exploiting young and vulnerable people and sending then into small towns across our region, to sell and store class A drugs on their behalf.

“The majority of young and vulnerable people who get involved in county lines are expertly groomed by ruthless gangs who sell them a dream: money, trainers, flashy cars and watches – all in easy reach for a teenager who is willing to run a few errands.

“Some young people don’t even need grooming – they have seen the You Tube videos which glamorise the gangster lifestyle and will approach dealers and ask to work for them, believing that they will earn protection, respect and a better life.

“The reality couldn’t be more different. Children as young as 12 can find themselves enslaved in ‘trap houses’, cutting and selling drugs 24/7, in disgusting conditions, unable to wash, sleep or eat properly, under the constant threat of violence, with dangerous people coming and going. They earn little money and lose all ties with their friends and families.

“This behaviour is a significant threat to our communities and we are committed to reducing its impact. But we need your help: spot the signs and act on your concerns. Your voice will be heard and will make a difference.”

Trap house in Gloucestershire where teenagers were found by police. Pic credit: Gloucestershire Police
Trap house in Gloucestershire where teenagers were found by police. Pic credit: Gloucestershire Police

What does county lines mean?

County lines is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs out of bigger cities into one or more smaller towns in the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of ‘deal line’. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money, and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence and weapons.

What are we doing to tackle county lines?

The police work closely with partner agencies in housing, drug and alcohol support services and local authorities to identify and support those at risk, identify the perpetrators, disrupt the enterprises and bring offenders to justice.  The South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SW ROCU) monitors and targets county lines that cross regional borders, linking in with the National Crime Agency to ensure a UK-wide response.

What can you do to help?

We need you to help us tackle county lines criminality by spotting the signs and reporting drug dealing or exploitation of a vulnerable person. Many people would not recognise the signs that a vulnerable person is being groomed or exploited. By raising awareness, we hope more people will feel comfortable in reporting information to the police. Your call could save lives.

Grooming and exploitation – know the signs

  • Has a child or young person gone missing from school or home?
  • Are they meeting with unfamiliar adults?
  • Have you noticed a change in their behaviour?
  • Are they using drugs and alcohol?
  • Has there been a breakdown in relationships with family and friends?
  • Have they suddenly acquired new possessions such as trainers / clothes / phones or other gadgets?
  • Do they have unexplained injuries?
  • Young people seeming unfamiliar with your community or where they are?

This could be a sign that they are being coerced and controlled to commit crime. Call 101 to report it or contact Crimestoppers anonymously.

Cuckooing

Drug dealers will often take over the homes of vulnerable people who may also be addicted to drugs, and use it as a base to deal drugs in the area. The vulnerable person may be being kept inside against their will.

  • Have you noticed more people calling or staying at an address? Sometimes at unsociable hours?
  • Have you noticed a neighbour has not been seen for a while?
  • Are there suspicious smells coming from an address?
  • Are there suspicious or unfamiliar vehicles outside the address?
  • Are there new or regularly changing residents (e.g. different accent compared to local accent)?

Cuckooing could be taking place. Look out for your neighbours and report suspicions anonymously online to Crimestoppers or by calling 0800 555 111. No personal details are taken, information cannot be traced or recorded and you will not go to court or have to speak to police when contacting Crimestoppers.

Alternatively you can call the police on 101. If you think someone is at immediate risk of harm, always call 999.