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County Lines impact for public sector organisations
County Lines activity has increased significantly during 2020, coinciding with the lockdown in March and continuing on an upward trend. This may be due to logistical difficulties faced by social services, the police, schools and other agencies in reaching, reporting and protecting vulnerable children.
Victims are targeted by gangs due to vulnerabilities including being removed from dysfunctional home environments and placed into care, regularly missing from home, living in poverty, having various behavioral and psychological disorders and also being excluded from school. County Lines gangs quickly adapt their methods to build up a relationships with children (and vulnerable adults) - some younger than ten years old - using various methods to essentially groom and exploit them with the aim of getting them to move drugs, money and firearms around the country to suburban and coastal areas. County Lines often overlaps with other forms of exploitation and abuse, including modern slavery, violence and the sexual exploitation of children and vulnerable adults. Children can be forced into sexual activity, groomed into an exploitative sexual relationship with gang members and made to work off drug debts sexually. They can also be made to move drugs around in invasive and sexually abusive ways. Consequentially involvement can lead to serious sexual, physical and emotional harm to young people and very sad outcomes.
The National Crime Agency states in their 2020/21 annual plan that over 2,000 County Lines exist around the country and there are also over 300,000 individuals in the UK who are estimated to pose a sexual threat to children. In the year 2019/20 the NCA disrupted over 2,100 County lines perpetrators, safeguarded over 1,600 children and arrested over 1,000 individuals in the UK for this type of crime. Sadly those figures are increasing. The Children’s Society recently reported that over 90% of police forces in England have seen this activity increase in their area.
Local authorities and the police have pivotal roles in identifying and protecting victims; both organisations owing duties of care to them under both common law and the Human Rights Act in specific circumstances. Civil claims can follow for failing to protect victims, failing to disrupt the perpetrators and misfeasance. Both organisations should engage in a multi-agency approach, together with schools, health and other professionals. They should ensure that their safeguarding procedures are detailed and preventative and that their professional staff including social workers and police officers are aware of them to identify at risk children early. They should also ensure that potential victims are reported to the National Referral Mechanism for the necessary support and protection.
For more specific information, please contact Partner, Sarah Swan.