The term County Lines describes gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into other areas of the country, often small towns, using dedicated mobile phone lines or another form of ‘deal line’ which can be a person. They are likely to exploit children or vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money and will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons.

How do gangs get children and adults to work for them?

Often there is an exchange between the child or vulnerable adult and gang member who receives something they need or want for carrying out a task. This may be cash, drugs, clothes or even protection, status, affection or perceived friendship. They may also carry out a task out of fear of violence or retribution.

What is Cuckooing?

Cuckooing is a form of county lines crime in which drug dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to criminally exploit them as a base for drug dealing, often in multi-occupancy or social housing properties.

What are the signs to look out for?

County Lines

The following signs could suggest that someone is being exploited through county lines activity:

  • Gang association or isolation from peers or social networks
  • Missing from home or schools and/or significant decline in performance
  • New friends or relationships with those who don’t share any mutual friendships with the victim or anyone else
  • May be carrying a weapon
  • Receiving more texts or calls than usual
  • Sudden influx of cash, clothes or mobile phones
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Significant changes in emotional well-being


The following signs suggest that someone could be a victim of cuckooing:

  • Increase in anti-social behaviour
  • A neighbour who hasn’t been seen for an extended period
  • Increase in people entering or leaving or an increase in cars or bikes outside a home
  • Signs of drug use
  • Windows covered or curtains closed for a long period

Who is at risk?

Any child, young person or vulnerable person could be at risk of being criminally exploited by drugs or organised crime gangs. However, some are more vulnerable including those who are:

  • Experiencing domestic violence, parental drug abuse or criminality
  • Have an unstable home life
  • Are excluded from school and suffering social isolation
  • Suffering homelessness or living in insecure accommodation
  • Have learning or physical disabilities and/or mental health issues
  • Have associations with criminality or being in care

How can you help?

Everyone can help by learning the signs to look out for and being vigilant within their work and home environments.

Make a report

If you believe you may be a victim (or think somebody may be a victim) of exploitation through county lines or cuckooing, we advise you to contact one of the following:

Leicestershire Police

Leicester City Council



  • Phone0116 454 1004 (Monday to Thursday 8.30am to 5pm, Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm)

Leicestershire County Council



Rutland County Council

Crimestoppers (Report anonymously)

Anonymous reporting can also be made online via where there is more information about County Lines.

For 24/7 help and support about safeguarding or child protection, contact the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) helpline on:

The Children’s Society can also provide help and support.

If someone is in immediate danger or a crime is taking place now, dial 999.