Hand holding drugs
County Lines County lines involves the transportation and supply of drugs from larger towns and cities to market locations (usually suburbs, small towns and rural areas).

County lines activities are managed by drug gangs using transport and supply lines controlled by mobile phones (‘deal lines’).

County lines usually involves the trafficking and sale of Class A drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine

Drug gangs set up bases in new locations to produce and sell illegal drugs – this often happens through taking over the homes of vulnerable adults in a process known as ‘cuckooing’. These places are sometimes known as ‘trap houses’ or ‘safe houses’

Who is affected?

How are people exploited?

Spotting some of the signs- not exhaustive;

Appearance and behaviour

  • becoming more secretive, aggressive or violent
  • meeting with unfamiliar people
  • persistently going missing – someone may go missing from their home or local area when they are trafficking drugs along ‘deal lines’
  • leaving home without explanation or staying out unusually late
  • loss of interest in school, college or work and decline in performance
  • significant changes in emotional wellbeing
  • suspicion of physical assault or unexplained injuries – including ‘DIY injuries’, (knife and puncture wounds) which are signs of punishment for drug-related debts
  • using language relating to drug dealing, violence or gangs
  • carrying a weapon.

Personal situation

  • associating with a gang
  • becoming isolated from peers and social networks
  • having a friendship or relationship with someone who appears older or controlling
  • sudden changes in lifestyle
  • using drugs, especially if their drug use has increased
  • unexplained acquisition of money, drugs or mobile phones.

Other Signs

  • being found in possession of large quantities of drugs
  • being taken to different houses and locations by unknown people
  • receiving an excessive amount of texts or phone calls
  • using more than one phone, especially if both are used to communicate with different people – for example, if one phone is used exclusively to communicate with specific people or a specific group.

Signs that someone’s property is being cuckooed

  • suspicious items in the property, such as weighing scales, multiple phones, sim cards or drug paraphernalia
  • unexplained presence of cash, clothes and other items of value
  • doors and windows which have been blocked off
  • presence of unknown people in the property, who may act as friends of the inhabitant – their accents may indicate that they are not local and may have travelled to traffick drugs
  • more people than normal entering the property, or people arriving and leaving at unusual times
  • cars arriving at the property for short periods of time
  • concerns that the inhabitant of the property has not been seen for a while – they may feel too afraid to leave the house or may have been prevented from doing so by the drug gang.

Information, resources and support

Victim Support is an independent charity in England and Wales that provides specialist practical and emotional support to victims and witnesses of crime. 


#LookCloser is a partnership campaign between The Children’s Society, the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre and the British Transport Police, encouraging everyone to learn the signs of child exploitation and how to report it if worried, including here on our anonymous online form. The campaign also seeks to highlight that child exploitation can happen anywhere, and any young person can be a victim. Find out more at the campaign webpage.