County Lines: The children forced to sell drugs

About 4,000 teenagers from London are being exploited and trafficked every year to sell drugs in rural towns and cities, a leading youth charity says.

Known as “county lines”, gangs use children as young as 12 to traffic drugs, using dedicated mobile phones or “lines”.

Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland said the figures were “shocking” and the exploitation was only slowly being recognised.

It comes as the Home Office announced it was putting £300,000 into a new pilot project to help young victims.

File on 4 spoke to one teenager about what it is like to be involved in a county lines gang.

Michael* was 13 years old when a friend at his school approached him about selling drugs.

Lured in by the prospect of making money, he began selling in his local area, but things escalated quickly.

The gang was soon sending him on jobs out of London with the promise he could make around £500 a week.

He was sent to the house of a vulnerable drug user that the gang had taken over in the Midlands, a practice known as cuckooing.

‘A bit more’
Using this as his base, he was out on the street selling heroin and crack cocaine, day and night.

“I was a bit shaky, I was actually scared,” he says.

“But from the time you see the money, you’re just thinking, ‘OK, I can just bear a bit more.'”

Michael describes having a normal upbringing and a close relationship with his family.

Frantic about his long absences, he says, they would try to stop him by taking away his mobile phone – but as soon as he left his house, the gang would start hassling him again.

They would take him to a house where they ran a kind of breakfast club.

“Before you go to school you have breakfast there. I’d probably have a quick ride to school and then after school they come and pick you up as well,” he says.

Despite living with a group of drug users, Michael says he “didn’t really recognise the risks” or see how easily he could be attacked.

He describes how he once ended up staying in a graveyard after being left stranded hundreds of miles from home with nowhere to stay.

“They [drug users] could have found another drug dealer and told him ‘listen, this guy is in a graveyard and he’s got drugs’… anything could have happened, that experience was crazy.”

After being arrested for possession of drugs, Michael decided to stop selling, but says it was not easy to leave the gang behind.

“They were trying to get at me but I moved away from the area, so I think that helped me a lot.

“I started to gain different knowledge and actually make my life something else and not just be another number.”

‘Promises become threats’
The charity Safer London has dealt with many teenagers like Michael, who are exploited to sell drugs for older gang members.

The charity’s chief executive, Claire Hubberstey, said a frightening number of young people were at risk of being involved in county lines dealing.

“We have started recording when we’ve got concerns,” she says.

Based on the number of young people they see, they estimate at least 4,000 young people are at risk every year.

She compares it to the way children are lured in to sexual grooming, saying initial promises soon turn into threats.

“Young people often talk about being physically locked in premises so they’re not able to actually get out.

“Threats of coercion or violence mean they can be too scared to try to make their own way back – even if they have the means to do so.”

She wants all of these young people placed on the National Referral Mechanism – meaning they would be treated as victims of trafficking and modern slavery, rather than being treated as criminals.

“They are exploited children, and they are being manipulated and exploited. Even if they don’t see it, that doesn’t mean that it’s not happening”, she says.

‘Shocking numbers’
Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland said the extent of county lines exploitation was only slowly being recognised.

“We’re waking up to it. Are we fully awake to it yet? Probably not, but we are starting to.”

He says tackling it will require a change in the psyche of the police and other authorities to see young drugs traffickers as victims not criminals.

“It makes an enormous difference. You get it right, the whole process changes because you don’t have that person in the dock, you start looking for someone else to put in the dock.”

Sarah Newton, minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, said as well as new funding, the government had also taken measures including passing legislation to allow police to shut down the phone lines used to market drugs.

“It sends a very clear message that we will not tolerate this criminal activity.”

*Michael’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

First day of outreach into the community 21/10/2016

Our plans were to have 2 teams, one to go onto Tulse Hill estate and the other to go into Brixton (Windrush Sq). We had 6 attend so we had one team go onto Tulse Hill.

When we arrived a group of about 20 young people (between and ages of 12-14) had just finished football training. We said that we were from a local Church and we asked them what they thought could be improved on the estate. They started to talk about the football pitch, which they said was dangerous and said, that many of them had injured themselves playing on it. They told us about the potholes and the gravel. Then another young person said, ‘we always get people asking us what we want and nothing changes. There have been other Churches speak to us and we even spoke to the local MP. We said we wanted astroturf and floodlights because the football pitch is dangerous, but they never come back. All the other estates in Brixton have astroturf. They only help the bad people, no-one listen to us and nothing ever changes.’

We could sense their feeling of distrust and sense of invisibility. We told them we would be back and would do what we could. I asked if we could get another meeting with the MP would they be interested and they said yes.

We decided to look out for some of the older boys to get their views. We spoke to three boys one who was 16 and two who were 18 and asked them what they saw as the needs for the estate. They said the youth club is always closed and the football pitch needs astroturf and floodlight because that would keep the young people out of trouble!

We asked those older boys about themselves and if they were working or studying. One said he had a job; the other 18-year old said he is out of work and was looking for work in retail. We asked if he had a CV and if he needed support looking for work and he said he hasn’t got a CV and would like some help. We took his number and said we would call him to draft a CV for him and support him with job searching. The 16-year-old said that he wanted to go to college but missed the chance to enrol at college. He said he wanted to be a motorcycle mechanic. We will search to see if there is an apprenticeship he can apply for.

We will be inviting the boys to the Church for support.

We sent an email to the local MP and awaiting a response.

Keep us in your prayers

Invitation to London Christian Police Association Annual Event 18/10/2016

Steve was invited to testify to the power of Christ to transform lives at the Christian Police Association Annual Celebration. Steve encourage them by stating that the police often get a bad press but they should be commended for the work they do to keep us safe and the risk they put themselves in to do so. Steve also prayed for the Ambassadors. Balham Baptist Church lead the worship.

Invitation to the Conservative Party Conference 04/10/2016

Steve Rawlins was invited to speak at the Christians Conservative Fellowship supporters supper in Birmingham ( Tue 4th October.

Steve spoke with Andrew Selous MP – Former Minister for Prison, Probation and Rehabilitation.


Way4ward have engaged over 100 people in the last year.

Way4ward has considerable expertise of working with gang members, prisoners, ex-prisoners, families and young people with complex needs, people with mental illness and recovering from addiction. In the past 12 months we have engaged over 72 people in prison, 46 through the prison gate, 25 offenders in the community and 14 families.  We have also engaged 20 young people in the community who were either at risk of exclusion from school or NEET, on our high intervention-mentoring programme. This does not include the 70 plus young people we engaged in summer school sports activities and this half term. Our work also involves meeting with families, social workers, carers and schools to provide assessments, action plans, mediation, confidence building and raising aspirations. 37 of our participants progressed to employment, apprenticeships or further training.   We worked with eight of the most challenging young people from Southwark Pupil Referral Unit (PRU).  Seven completed their Sports Leaders Level 2, five went on to complete a Food and Hygiene course and six of them completed their GCSE’s and are awaiting their results. This is a fantastic achievement as none of them where expected to sit for GCSE’s before they came to us.  We are providing high intervention specialist mentoring for three young people in care who are between the ages 14-16. We provide in-depth assessments, develop action plans, reviewing and assessing the impact of the interventions, making recommendations and write reports for social workers, local authorities, special educational needs workers, and other professionals working with the young person. We also involve parents and/or carers in this process.

Barnardo’s calls for government action to support the children of prisoners

The government must do more to help thousands of children whose lives are being disrupted because they have a parent in prison, Barnardo’s has said. The charity says not enough is being done to identify and support children with a parent in prison and is calling on government to create a national action plan.

It says the estimated 200,000 children in England and Wales who have a parent in prison face isolation, stigma, poverty and family breakdown, with the disruption contributing to a 65 per cent likelihood of them offending themselves.

However neither the government nor criminal justice services routinely record or ask about them.

Barnardo’s is calling for the Ministry of Justice to appoint a lead minister to have responsibility for children of prisoners to ensure they are identified from the point of sentencing or remand.

Courts in England and Wales would be statutorily obliged to ask about the children of people sent to prison and ensure that adequate child care arrangements are in place.

And it wants a national action plan for England to be developed for cross-departmental implementation by the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education.

Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo’s, said: “Children with a parent in prison have done nothing wrong, yet they can be left feeling like they’re serving a sentence themselves.

“They are the innocent victims.

“They feel isolated and ashamed – unable to talk about their situation because they are scared of being bullied and judged.

“They are often left traumatised having witnessed their parent’s arrest and they can suddenly find themselves thrown into poverty and forced out of the place they call home.”

“We need to identify these children so that we can provide long-term support and break the intergenerational offending that currently sees 65 per cent of boys with a father in prison go on to offend.”

Last year Action for Prisoners’ Families and the Prison Advice & Care Trust (Pact) called for all prisons to have an independent children’s advocate and for the rights of offenders’ children to have a voice in government.

Ratio of children in prison from ethnic minorities rises

Ratio of children in prison from ethnic minorities rises

By Neil Puffett, Monday 31 October 2011

Over-representation of black and ethnic minority children in the justice system is likely to worsen as early intervention services are stripped of funds, prison reformists have claimed.

The warning comes after a report by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons found that the proport­ion of black and minority ethnic (BME) children, already hugely over-represented in the system, rose to 39 per cent in 2010/11 from 33 per cent in 2009/10.

The proportion of foreign national young men increased to six per cent from four per cent in 2009/10 and the number identified as Muslim rose to 16 per cent from 13 per cent in 2009/10.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the Youth Justice Board has failed to tackle the over-representation of BME children in the criminal justice system for many years.

“As money is taken out of early intervention, prevention and children’s services, the underlying causes of crime are likely to be exacerbated, which will do nothing to quell the disproportionate and rising amount of BME children in prison,” she said.

She called for action to change the key triggers. “Most BME children are from the South where there are scant prison beds, resulting in them being held in prisons hundreds of miles from home,” she said. “A diminished relationship with family members and communities results in higher reoffending levels, and yet we still continue to send them to places that most families can’t afford to get to on a regular basis.”

YJB chair Frances Done has expressed concern at the report, adding that work will be carried out to address the findings.


This report examines the treatment, care and tragic death of an African Caribbean patient while at the Norvic Clinic, in Norwich. (Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority 2004)

The David Bennett Inquiry report  looks into the treatment and care of, David Bennett, an African Caribbean patient, who died after he was forcibly restrained by those tasked with his care.

His death followed an incident involving the use of restraint. The jury at the inquest returned a verdict of accidental death aggravated by Neglect on 17 May 2001 and said that the cause of death was due to prolonged restraint and long-term anti-psychotic drug therapy.

On the night of Bennett’s death, he was racially abused by a fellow patient during a dispute over the hospital phone. Nurses told Bennett  that he would be moved from where he was staying to a more punitive ward to diffuse the situation. When he resisted the situation deteriorated and led to a team of up to five nurses forcibly restraining him face down for almost half an hour.

The nurses only released him once they realised he had stopped breathing.  No attempt was made to resuscitate him.

Bennetts pathology report showed that he had three and a half times the BNF formulary limits of medication in his blood stream.

Retired high court judge, sir John Blofeld, chair of the Bennett Inquiry condemened the racism within mental health services as a blot on the good name of the NHS.

22 recommendations were made within the Inquiry report to address the systemic racism and inequity in treatment and outcomes of black patients.

2008 marks exactly 10 years since David Bennetts death.

To date not one recommendation within this report has been fully implemented.

The 2007 Deaths In Custody report rather shows that that has been a 40% increase in the death rate of patients detained under the Mental Health Act in the last 12 months. 

Read the David Rocky Bennett Inquiry Report in full.

Read the Forum for Deaths in Custody Report in full.

Employment for young offenders debate

Peers heard that young adults aged between 16 and 24 were most likely to commit an offence, but with the “right intervention and support” they were also the group most likely to desist from offending and grow out of crime.

For more information please see BBC Democracy Live.