Children are targeted by county lines gangs to sell drugs and carry weapons. Children not even in their teens yet have been targeted in Bedfordshire.
They can be sent across the country to sell drugs, travelling by train, bus or taxi.
These children may face extreme violence and intimidation as well as ‘debt bondage’, where gangs will arrange for the young runner to get robbed so they are in the gang’s debt.
The ‘county line’ is the mobile phone line used to take the orders of drugs.
County lines gangs are typically associated with gangs from urban areas sending exploited children to more rural areas.
Importing areas – areas where the drugs are taken to – are reporting increased levels of violence and weapons related crimes as a result of this trend.
Here in Bedfordshire, we have issues with children and young people from London in particular being sent here to sell drugs.
However, gangs based in the county are also grooming and exploiting young people who live here and sending them off to other areas.
While most child criminal exploitation victims are boys, girls are also targeted by these gangs to do things like hide weapons from the police.
Any young person can be exploited, either in person or online. Gangs are specifically targeting so-called ‘clear skin’ children who do not have a criminal record, so they will not draw attention.
Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) is dedicated to tackling child criminal exploitation by gangs and county lines.
The Home Office funded VERU has a specialist team of Youth Intervention Specialists with lived experience of violence, exploitation and trauma. They have worked with more than 100 young people and their families since being launched in February 2020.
To contact this team or for more information about things like knife crime and county lines, visit the VERU’s website.