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County Lines

What are county lines?

County lines is the term used to describe urban gangs supplying drugs to other parts of the UK using dedicated mobile phone lines. The gangs are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults in order to move and store drugs and money. To do this they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence and weapons.

The deal line is often treated as a ‘brand’ for the gangs who generally focus on supplying Class A drugs like heroin or crack cocaine.

An operating base is an essential feature of county lines gangs. They will regularly exploit vulnerable people, by building up a debt or using threats and violence in order to take over a person’s home. This practice is commonly referred to as ‘cuckooing’.

Dorset Police is working with The Children’s Society to better understand the needs of vulnerable children so we can protect those who most need our help.

Further information

Signs to look out for in a young person:

  • A child or young person going missing from school or home or significant changes in emotional well-being
  • The use of drugs and alcohol
  • A young person meeting unfamiliar adults or a change to their behaviour
  • Relationships with controlling or older individuals or associated with gangs
  • Acquiring money or expensive gifts they can’t account for
  • Suspicion of self-harm, physical assault or unexplained injuries

Signs to look out for in your community: 

  • Lone children from outside of the area
  • Individuals with multiple mobile phones or tablets or ‘SIM cards’
  • Unknown or suspicious looking characters coming and going from a neighbour’s house
  • Young people with more money, expensive clothing, or accessories than they can account for

Cuckooing is when a stranger takes over another person’s home, usually a vulnerable person, and uses it as a place to sell, supply or store drugs.

These people may then invite other people to stay without asking the residents' permission and they may even bully or threaten that person to leave their own home.

Spotting 'cuckooing'

  • People calling at a local address - often at unsociable hours
  • Suspicious vehicles or people at an address
  • A neighbour that has not been seen for a while

If you’re being ‘cuckooed’ or think you know someone who is, contact the police by reporting online or calling 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. If you are in an emergency situation always call 999.

A county line invariably involves the exploitation of young or vulnerable people.

Children as young as 12 years old have been reported to be involved but most commonly involved are 15-16 year old boys. Children are used to deliver drugs and money between locations. They will often stay in the house that has been taken over through 'cuckooing'.

Gangs may also target women who tend to be drug users or have engaged in a relationship with a gang member. They can become victims of sexual and domestic violence and can also be forced into delivering drugs or money for the gang.

Vulnerable adults who are in financial difficulties or have mental health problems are usually the most likely victim of cuckooing, and can also become the sellers of drugs on the streets.

We need your help to protect young and vulnerable people in our communities. Ensure you know what signs to look for as outlined above and report any suspicions to the police so we can help stop county lines from affecting your community.

You can report any suspicious activity online or alternatively if you wish to speak to someone call 101. If you’d prefer to contact someone anonymously, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Early identification is key to safeguarding young and vulnerable people and in identifying and tackling gang exploitation.

The police are working with partners to ensure a multi-agency approach to effectively safeguard young people and prevent county lines happening in Dorset.

You can report any suspicious activity to the police online, alternatively if you wish to speak to someone dial 101. If you’d prefer to contact someone anonymously, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

A printable poster is available to put in any public service or business locations. Please see the link on this page to download.




Reporting for agencies and professionals

Multi-agency information sharing report for child exploitation