How is COVID affecting county lines drug smuggling?

3rd February 2021 | County Lines

County lines is one of the most prevalent forms of modern slavery in the UK. The big question over the last few months has been how is COVID affecting county lines?

The Clewer Initiative

Some have wondered whether it would bring an end to the upward trend, others have feared it has driven it further underground.

The University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab has released an interim report with worrying findings.

...there appears to have been a shift towards the exploitation of victims who do not fit existing stereotypes such as young people from more affluent backgrounds and girls,

The exploration into the impact of Covid-19 on UK organised crime has been conducted by the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab in collaboration with the De Montfort University School of Law, and funded by UKRI as part of its Covid-19 rapid response research scheme.

Unfortunately, it suggests that county lines gangs adapted to the restrictions of the spring lockdown quickly.

Initially, British Transport Police reported early disruption successes of County Lines activity because of the reduction of bona fide passengers of the rail networks. This meant they could more easily identify children far away from their homes who were carrying large quantities of cash or drugs. The Police also received increased intelligence from residential areas as more people were working from home.

However, there appears to have been a shift towards the exploitation of victims who do not fit existing stereotypes such as young people from more affluent backgrounds and girls, who are less likely to be picked up by the police. There have also been rising cases of perpetrators using platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok to groom victims.

What’s more, lockdown inhibited opportunities for face-to-face safeguarding and risk assessment which created big challenges for child protection services, the police, the courts and other frontline services. Some of the young people who did remain in regular contact with professionals were often less comfortable making disclosures over the telephone.

The report suggests that in lockdown gangs have adapted their methods of delivery and payment – preferring private and hired vehicles with bulk deliveries to provincial areas and using local children as runners rather than children from outside the area. To avoid detection, gangs have also shifted to delivering in busy public areas, such as supermarket car parks, rather than from residential addresses.

Read the report in full: County lines drug networks circumvent lockdown restrictions

If you are interested in finding out more about county lines, why not sign up for the Breaking County Lines Online Training Course? It takes place over two 2-hour sessions covering four course modules: Understanding County Lines; Detection of County Lines; Protecting Children, Young People and Vulnerable Adults; and Building Resilience. We also run Train the Trainer courses for those who want to take the course out to their own communities. Courses are available for church groups and for statutory organisations and agencies with adapted course materials for each type of group.

To find out more or sign up for Breaking County Lines, email

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