County Lines

Criminal Exploitation is where children and vulnerable adults are groomed to commit crimes.  One major way in which children and adults can be criminally exploited is their involvement in County Lines.  County Lines is the police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns.

County lines is a form of criminal exploitation and involves gangs and organised drug networks grooming and exploiting individuals to sell drugs. Often these children and/or vulnerable adults are made to travel across counties, and they use dedicated mobile phone ‘lines’ to supply drugs – this is where the term ‘county lines’ comes from. This is a major safeguarding issue and is happening in Wiltshire and across the country. Professionals and the wider community need to be able to spot the signs and know how to respond to and report concerns.

What are the signs of CCE and County Lines?

  • Returning home late, staying out all night or going missing
  • Being found in areas away from home
  • Increasing drug use, or being found to have large amounts of drugs on them
  • Being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going
  • Unexplained absences from school, college, training or work
  • Unexplained money, phone(s), clothes or jewellery
  • Increasingly disruptive or aggressive behaviour
  • Using sexual, drug-related or violent language you wouldn’t expect them to know
  • Coming home with injuries or looking particularly dishevelled
  • Having hotel cards or keys to unknown places
  • Suspicion of physical assault or unexplained injuries – including ‘DIY injuries’, (knife and puncture wounds) which are signs of punishment for drug-related debts
  • Carrying a weapon

Watch this video to find out how children can become criminally exploited:

What should you do if you are concerned about a child or a vulenerable adult?

  • If you believe a person is in immediate risk of harm, you should contact the police on 999
  • Any practitioner working with a child who they think may be at risk of criminal exploitation should follow their local safeguarding guidance and refer concerns to the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) mash@wiltshire.gov.uk or 0300 456 0108
  • Any practitioner working with a vulnerable adult should follow local safeguarding guidance and refer concerns to the Adult Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) 0300 456 0111
  • You can also use Wiltshire Council’s Risk Outside the Home form which will be available from Spring 2022.
  • If there is no immediate risk, you can also share information or concerns by contact the police on 101 if you want or complete their Partner Agency information Sharing Form.
  • Guidance on capturing and reporting intelligence can be found here: Capturing and reporting intelligence: child sexual and /or criminal exploitation
  • Contact your local Police Community Coordinator North East South West who deal with local policing responses and they can highlight issues in weekly police tasking meetings
  • You can also read Wiltshire’s Children Missing from Home and Care protocol 2022, which will help you know what to do if you are concerned about a child who goes missing

The NSPCC has lots of information about signs to look for, what the dangers of CCE are for children and what to do if you’re worried about a child you think may be involved in CCE.

Toolkits for Professionals:

Further Resources and Guidance

For further information and guidance on criminal exploitation and county lines, see the Resource Hub.

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