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What is County Lines Exploitation, is it the same as Modern Slavery?

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County lines is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas within the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of “deal line”. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons. UK GOVT DEFINITION 2018


Social media is used to make initial contact with children and young people. Children as young as 12 years old are being contacted and exploited by organised criminal gangs to courier drugs out of their local area. The most common age for exploitation is 15-16 years and includes both males and females.

The most targeted group are white British children because criminal gangs consider they are less likely to be noticed by the police and more likely to avoid police detection. However, this does not mean that a person of any ethnicity or nationality is risk free from being targeted and exploited.

County lines exploitation is widespread, with gangs from big cities including Manchester, London and Liverpool operating throughout England, Wales and Scotland.


Child criminal exploitation is increasingly used to describe this type of exploitation where children are involved.  It includes children being forced to work on cannabis farms, deliver class A drugs, or commit theft.

It is defined as:

Child Criminal Exploitation is common in county lines and occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual. Child Criminal Exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.


A child or young person or a vulnerable adult is more likely to be targeted by a criminal gang because they are more likely to respond to threats of force or violence and feel less able to resist it than others. They may also respond to the promises of financial or other rewards and less likely to question such offers or the person making the promises.

The exploitation can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and is often accompanied by violence or threats of violence; this can be perpetrated by an individual or group. The activity can appear consensual whilst still being exploitation.

The exploitation is typified by a power imbalance, the most obvious being an age imbalance but may include cognitive ability, status, and physical strength.

One of the key factors found in most cases of county lines exploitation is the presence of some form of exchange, for example, carrying drugs in return for something. This is where the person being exploited is promised, offered or given something they want or need. The exchange can include both tangible (such as money, drugs or clothes) and intangible rewards (such as status, protection or perceived friendship or affection).


Due to the nature of the exploitation, children and vulnerable adults who become involved with a criminal gang can find themselves facing criminal charges. It is important that advice is sought from an experienced criminal defence team, such as the team at Emery Johnson Astills. Being exploited in this way can offer a defence to criminal charges.

It is important to remember the unequal power dynamic within which an exchange occurs and that involvement in criminal activity in these circumstances does not make them any less of a victim.


Some potential indicators of county lines involvement and exploitation are listed below, with those at the top of particular concern:

• leaving home / care without explanation

• persistently going missing from school or home and / or being found out-of-area;

• excessive receipt of texts / phone calls and/or having multiple handsets

• unexplained acquisition of money, clothes, or mobile phones

• carrying weapons

• suspicion of physical assault / unexplained injuries

• gang association or isolation from peers or social networks

• self-harm or significant changes in emotion

How we can Help

Here at Emery Johnson Astills we specialise in Criminal Defence and can attend police stations 24 hours a day. Furthermore, we attend both Magistrates and Crown Court, with our own expert Solicitor Advocates being able to conduct Crown Court matters.

If you therefore find yourself or your child(ren) suspected any offence please give a member of the Crime Team a call on 01162554855 or 01509610312 or email us on for expert advice.

Our Criminal Defence team here at Emery Johnson Astills have specialist advocates who deal with drug related offences, offences of carrying weapons and assaults, all of which are associated with County Lines Exploitation.

With offices in Leicester and Loughborough we are able to attend a number of local police stations, whether an interview is conduct voluntary or under arrest.

For more information on the members of the Crime Team at Emery Johnson Astills please visit our people page.