County lines – or drug lines – is a growing problem our SOS Project caseworkers are encountering amongst their clients. It involves the exploitation of children and young people by gang elders to smuggle drugs across the country to establish new drug markets. The young people are often made promises of large sums of money and protection from gang elders to do this. These are usually false promises and the young person is left isolated, vulnerable and controlled by the gang – often threatened with violence if they try to run away. Here is one account of how one of our SOS Team came into contact with a young boy caught up in a county line.
“Some while ago I received a call from a mother in distress. Her 14 year old son had started to go missing and she was desperate for help. In the conversation that followed I suspected he had got caught up in a county line.
I gave her my mobile number and asked her to give me a call when he returned. A few more days passed before she did so, when she did I could hear her son in the background verbally abusing her. He came on the phone, furious; who was I, who did I think I was talking to? When I explained I was nothing to do with the authorities he calmed down.
I arranged to meet with him the following day. I took him to a cheap place to eat and ordered large for him in everything. I knew that being involved in a county line meant it was likely that he wouldn’t have eaten properly for a few days at a time. I asked him where he had been. He said he didn’t know – just a place with trees and country lanes, one place he said was by the sea-side. My next question was to find out how much they paid him. At this point he tried to change the subject; these were his ‘family’. They would be there for him until the end and that was worth more than any money in the world. I persisted until eventually he confided they had paid him nothing, nothing at all.
He told me one of the ‘elders’ had given him a weapon to carry and that he worked with other young people from all different areas, one young kid he told me had a Liverpool accent and had come all the way down just to work.
I drew comparisons with the people in the restaurant and even asked the waitress how much she was on an hour – £9.15 minimum wage doesn’t seem like a lot but when you are in a crack house for two to three days at a time and getting paid nothing except promises it makes sense to do things legit. Even at 14 years of age he got that.”