Ann Coffey


Violence linked to ‘County Lines’ rockets

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30th January 2018

A significant increase in violent crime associated with drug gangs who groom young children has been reported by more than two thirds of police forces.

According to a survey of police forces by Ann Coffey, MP for Stockport, the extreme violence includes murders, rapes, stabbings, kidnappings, a hand severed off with a machete, legs broken and use of boiling water, knives, bats and hammers.

Ms Coffey, who is the chair of the All Party Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, wrote to all 45 police forces in Great Britain asking specifically if violence linked to so-called ‘County Lines’ had increased.

All 45 responded and of those 80% (36 police forces) stated that levels of violence linked to County Lines had increased recently. Others talked more generally about ‘high levels of violence”.

Findings from Ann Coffey’s survey will be aired on ITV news at 6.30pm and 10pm and will include interviews with a range of people affected by County Lines.

Thousands of children are being groomed to work as drug mules by dealers exploiting vulnerable people in ‘County Lines,’ which involves city based gangs expanding into rural markets with Class A drugs, including heroin and crack cocaine. They use a specific mobile phone number to take orders.

Ms Coffey’s research follows hot on the heels of a recent National Crime Agency report which identified at least 720 County lines nationally.

Ms Coffey said: “I was expecting some forces to say violence connected to County Lines had gone up but was shocked by how many areas of the country reported significant increases in violent crime.

“My biggest fear is for the thousands of children who are being groomed and coerced to sell drugs and are then getting trapped and caught up in a world of horrendous and brutal violence.”

Gangs use violence to enforce their power over the children and young people they control and also in ‘turf’ wars with other gangs.

One force in South West England said:

“Extreme violence, humiliation and torture are common place, with dealers deliberately creating a culture of fear, intimidation and human misery in order to control their victims is commonplace.”

And a Northern Force said:

“Conflict between County Lines groups has resulted in serious violent incidents, including the use of bladed weapons, kidnappings and serious physical assault in the last six months, including a man’s hand being severed using a machete type weapon and both legs broken. This was thought to be a punishment attack by the people the victim was running drugs for.”


Other key findings in the survey:

  • Underreporting of violence because young victims were frightened of retribution.
  • High levels of violence and exploitation normally associated with London gangs being exported into rural areas.
  • Victims deliberately targeted for their vulnerability – children, people with mental health issues and learning difficulties and existing drug users.
  • Evidence of the targeting of vulnerable children in care, especially those in out of borough placements and Pupil Referral Units.
  • Example of a 16 year old being bought into the area to sell drugs who was made to dress up in the local school uniform to avoid detection. He was carrying class A drugs in his mouth.
  • Cuckooing – the taking over of addresses and the exploitation of those with drug addictions and external health problems – is more common than first realised
  • Many forces stressed the link with Child Sexual Exploitation and trafficking and potential slavery as children and vulnerable adults are force to work to pay off debts through fear of intimidation.
  • Big link between children who go missing and who are exploited by County Lines gangs
  • Evidence that forces recognise the need to raise awareness of how to spot County Lines exploitation in schools and in communities
  • GMP have launched a pioneering “Trapped” campaign which focusses on the trafficking of young people to sell drugs across county lines.
  • Many police forces said they were working together well across regions and also working closely with other agencies to try and help vulnerable children and young people who were entangled in County Lines.

Ms Coffey said: “The evidence provided by the police is very useful in helping to raise awareness of County Lines. It shows there has been a culture change in the police who are trying harder to identify victims.

“There is a recognition that this is the new grooming scandal and it has echoes of Rotherham and Rochdale.

“We must not make the same mistakes again of blaming children. Children and young people caught up in this brutal world are victims of criminal exploitation and not criminals.”