Sadiq lifts the lid on true scale of County Lines

19 September 2019
  • New figures reveal more than 4,000 young people involved in lines operating in 41 counties across the UK
  • Children as young as 11 being exploited by criminal gangs
  • Mayor’s new programme has 568 vulnerable young people referred in first year



The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has today lifted the lid on the true scale of the impact of County Lines activity with new figures revealing there are more than 4,000 young people involved in lines operating out of London and across the country.


London is the highest exporting area for so-called County Lines – a term for criminal gangs that prey on young people to help supply drugs across the country using mobile phone networks – with 15 per cent of all activity originating from the capital and driving gang-related violence and the criminal exploitation of vulnerable young people. *


The Mayor invested £3 million in 2018 in a three-year Rescue and Response programme to work to better understand, target and respond to County Lines. The programme is led by a coalition of London boroughs – Brent, Lewisham, Islington and Tower Hamlets – that help coordinate support across London for young people up to the age of 25.


In its first year, 568 young people were referred to the programme, with children as young as 11 identified to have been coerced by criminal gangs. Those being supported by the programme are linked to lines spread across 41 counties in the UK, with the ‘top five’ being Norfolk, Hampshire, Essex, Sussex and Thames Valley.


Rescue and Response has three delivery partners, supported by analysts and partnership coordinators that help manage referrals, that identify and provide interventions and ongoing support for a vulnerable young person. All three are at capacity and have referrals on a waiting list. St Giles Trust provides one-to-one support for young men, manage an out-of-hours support phone line and a rescue service to bring home young Londoners exploited in counties and begin supporting them as soon as possible, Abianda offers support for young women involved in County Lines, while Safer London helps young people impacted or affected by gangs.


Evidence shows it takes time to engage with a young person suffering criminal exploitation for a number of reasons, including fear of reprisal, and that despite young people being willing to engage and leave exploitation, criminal gang pressure is often the biggest challenge to overcome. Gangs target vulnerabilities in a young person’s life, including poverty, family breakdown, exclusion from school, drug addiction and learning difficulties. One young person referred to Rescue and Response was set up purposely for exclusion from school by his exploiters, while one young person who had suffered traumatic experiences at an early age as a result of domestic violence and had joined a criminal gang, was kidnapped and forced to work off the debt he owed as a result of being arrested. Frontline services find the control of gangs and debt bondage one of the hardest cycles to break. 


Reducing school exclusions in London and offering more support for young people after school are just two of the measures being funded by London’s Violence Reduction Unit, which was set up by the Mayor.


Networks use several methods to groom young people and vulnerable adults, often through the offer of money or drugs, and are approached in schools, Pupil Referral Units, youth clubs and food outlets, and promised a fake lifestyle that promises benefitting financially from County Lines exploitation.


The Government set up the National County Lines Coordination Centre, led by the Met’s assistant commissioner, Duncan Ball, last September to coordinate the policing of County Lines. It currently identifies people being exploited by County Lines, but there is a significant gap in terms of the support being provided for a young person. The Mayor’s investment in the Rescue and Response programme is filling some of the gap by providing support for hundreds of young people, but it’s clear more needs to be done to get a grip on a growing issue.


The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “County Lines operate across the country, exploiting vulnerable young people and driving gang-related violence. Now, for the first time, through the Rescue and Response programme funded by City Hall, we are beginning to see the devastating scale of the impact with thousands of young people involved in lines reaching all corners of the country.


“We are supporting young people where we can, but we know we’re only scratching the surface of a major national issue that is driving violence in London and across the country.


“The Government has finally admitted that its cuts to policing have gone too far – but it also needs to follow City Hall’s lead by being tough on the causes of crime. That means proper investment to help us prevent and support more young people being exploited and reversing the damaging cuts to local services, such as social services, which are at the frontline in the battle to tackle this issue.”


Abi Billinghurst, Founder and CEO at Abianda said: “Abianda is proud to be a partner in the Rescue and Response team. The work we have done with young women in the capital over the past year reminds us how important it is to maintain a focus on young women and girls who are affected by county line activity. As the high demand for this service shows, young women and girls are very much affected by criminal exploitation and yet are so often overlooked and misunderstood.


“We are delighted that the Mayor is prioritising services for young women and girls. With his support we have been able to reach some of the most vulnerable young women and girls in our communities who experience exploitation, violence, and coercion on a daily basis. Our unique programme has allowed girls in the capital to access services they so desperately need, recognise their own strengths and options, and to be free from harm and abuse.”


Evan Jones, Head of Child Criminal Exploitation at St Giles, said: “We really welcome the fact that the Mayor has given us the opportunity to help some of the most vulnerable young people in the capital as part of the Rescue and Response partnership. The high number of referrals shows that there previously wasn't the right support available for these young people, we now have some referrals on a waiting list so more capacity is urgently needed.

“However, many young people who were heavily involved in county lines activity have now thankfully got their young lives back with the help of Rescue and Response. We hope to continue this work until we have fully addressed county lines exploitation and ensured children and young people at risk are kept safe and get the futures they deserve.”


Sherry Peck, CEO of Safer London, said: “As an organisation we see this as a safeguarding issue and as such will require a collaborative multi agency approach to meet the support needs of those effected.

These issues are complex and deep rooted and will take many years to address. This highlights the need for an adequately resourced national strategy to effectively address a growing issue that affects communities not only in London but across the country.”


Cllr Tom Miller, Lead Member for Community Safety & Engagement at Brent Council, said: “Countering the issue of County Lines has suffered from a historic lack of funding and attention, to the detriment of vulnerable young people and communities. I’m really proud that, with the Mayor’s help, we are leading the management of this programme for all 32 London boroughs from Brent. Today’s announcement highlights the scale of the problem, and I urge the government to prioritise investment in projects that support youngsters to escape exploitation.”

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