County Lines. Maybe you’ve heard of this, maybe not. But if you are a parent or have children in your life that you care about, it is vital that you learn about it and, most importantly, help to educate these kids by talking about it.
I’d heard of it and thought I had a decent understanding of the subject until recently when my son had, what the police described as, 'a close shave'. I was aware that kids on bikes were targeted for drug running, I was aware that kids who travel in from London by train are a target and I was aware that adults are approaching kids offering to pay for food in return of a . These things are happening and if you live pretty much anywhere in England it’s most likely happening in your town. But here’s what I didn’t know and what I feel a responsibility to share. That the people coercing and grooming our kids may well be an adult in a quiet part of the high street, they may well be an adult hanging around the station or chicken shop but what I don’t think is widely enough is that they may just as easily be another kid. The same age as yours in the same class.
The police call this peer grooming and it happens when a 'friend' tries to recruit another child to run packages of drugs or money. These kids are earning around £350-£500 a day so at first it must seem like a great idea. Fast work, fast money. It might not seem that serious at first, but the further up the chain you go, the more deadly it becomes. These gangs think nothing of robbing their own, taking money or drugs from them, so that they become indebted and find it harder and harder to leave this life. These gangs think nothing of using weapons to take down other gangs. These gangs have had kids so trapped that they and their whole family have had to be relocated for safety.
Runners try to convince their peers to work for them. They can be relentless in their efforts to coerce and children who have never been in trouble before may feel increasingly pressured. You might be thinking that your child goes to a good school so you don’t need to worry. But the ‘good’ schools often have more issues around drugs because the kids there are likely to have more money to spend on them. Last year it came to light that my son had become a victim of peer grooming. Thankfully we found out before he got too involved with the boy responsible but even so my son and I received threats, demands for money and I was called in the middle of the night, from a private number, by an anonymous male. I can tell you it’s an unnerving experience.
The police and school helped guide us through it and every police officer I spoke to was so supportive and helpful. We were offered an educational visit from two officers so that we and our son could fully understand how County Lines operates and it is terrifying. A teacher accused my son and I of being naïve but after speaking to friends, it turns out that nobody I know had any idea how bad the situation is. Even a friend who was in the Met for 10 years was surprised that it was happening at the school both our sons attend. If, with all of her experience, she was surprised, how are the rest of us supposed to know? I don’t disagree that I am naïve about gangland drug wars, as is my son, but isn’t that how it should be? Should our kids know about this dark side of life? It breaks my heart to say it but yes. They do need to know because if they don’t, they won’t see it coming if, and I hope if not when, they are approached to join it.
So please educate yourselves and talk openly to your kids about this. And if you’ve had a similar experience to mine share it. Maybe your children have been involved on a deeper level but this isn’t an issue to be ashamed about. I use the word children because at 14, 15, 16 they really are still children involved in a world far beyond their understanding. And the police know that if they’ve become involved, they are victims, not criminals. Don’t be scared to talk to the police, they understand the system and will work to support your child, not prosecute them. I’ve included a link which may be the first step to learning more about the business that is County Lines. Please take the time to read about it, maybe speak to your children’s school and definitely talk to other parents. We need to protect our children from very real predators.