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Child abuse

County Lines and criminal exploitation – information for professionals

County lines, sometimes referred to as Dangerous Drug Networks (DDN’s), is the police term for urban gangs supplying drugs into market and coastal towns and villages mobile phone numbers, often referred to as ‘graft phones’ or ‘deal lines’.

It can often involve child criminal exploitation (CCE) using children from the urban source area or the targeting of local children and vulnerable adults to move both drugs and money.

Having established a market base, gangs typically take over the homes of local vulnerable adults by force, coercion and or deception in a term referred to as ‘cuckooing’.

Devon and Cornwall Police say there is increasing evidence that Devon is being targeted by criminals in larger cities such as London and Liverpool to distribute drugs in towns, villages and coastal areas within the South West, with drugs being trafficked into the county from across the UK. Areas with high levels of deprivation, poverty, unemployment and crime have been particularly targeted.

Drugs gangs operating in Devon are increasingly seeking to exploit local children, young people and adults. Gangs recruit and exploit children and young people to courier drugs and cash either within their area or to another location across the Country. This is done through deception, intimidation, violence, debt bondage and/or grooming. Sexual exploitation is also used in gangs to exert power and control over members or initiate young people into the gang. Sexual activity can also be used for status or protection, or used as a weapon and inflicted as sexual assault.

Professionals can report information and concerns to Devon and Cornwall Police through their secure Partner Agency Information Sharing Form.

Safeguarding practice guidance for professionals about children affected by gang activity and youth violence, including County Lines, can be found in the Devon Children and Families Partnership Procedures Manual. 

Useful resources

The Safer Devon Partnership Exploitation Toolkit provides information to help professionals and volunteers understand, identify and report signs of exploitation.

If you are concerned that a child is being abused please call

0345 155 1071

or email mashsecure@devon.gov.uk.

Professionals should complete the MASH contact form.

If it’s an emergency call 999


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