County lines: Rapid rise in gangs ‘exporting’ members

MP Ann Coffey has been focusing on how young people are being exploited through 'county lines' drug dealing networks.
MP Ann Coffey has been focusing on how young people are being exploited through 'county lines' drug dealing networks.

The tactic of exporting gang members to deal drugs in smaller towns is growing rapidly says an MP researching the link between ‘county lines’ and missing people.

In her role as chairwoman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, Ann Coffey asked every British police force how vulnerable children were being used to transport drugs.

It followed a 2016 report by the APPG which found missing children, particularly boys aged 15 to 17, were at risk of being targeted.

“I think that the new ‘county lines’ model in which organised gangs have started to export their members into smaller towns which don’t have a drug supply is something that has been developing at a great pace over recent years,” she said.

In some cases young gang members sent out of area may have been reported missing by family, foster carers or children’s homes – but until a national missing persons database goes live next year it can be hard to join the dots.

Like others, Ms Coffey sees difficulties in sharing information between forces as a key barrier to safeguarding young people at risk.

Another is the reluctance to tell communities about ‘county lines’ activity in their own towns.

“We’re not going to be able to really prevent children and young people becoming embroiled and groomed into this kind of activity unless there is that widespread local understanding that that is what’s happening to their young people and understanding of how serious it is,” she said.