Spotting the Signs of Exploitation

Younger people are at risk from gangs using them for drug trafficking under what is commonly termed ‘county lines’. 

Chief Constable Gary Roberts repeated his warning on this to the Tynwald Constitutional and Legal Affairs and Justice Committee, chaired by MLC Tanya August-Hanson having first raised it in his annual reports.

In 2011, the Police arrested one young person for a drug trafficking offence, whereas last year up to March 31 2021, it was 22, which the Chief Constable said is ‘alarming’.

Mr Roberts said: ‘Young people are now being involved in drug trafficking, often through the operation of what is commonly known as “county lines” where people, often in the UK but not solely in the UK, identify vulnerable people, some of whom are vulnerable purely because of their age, exploit them and force them into the drugs market where they will carry drugs for people, sell drugs, help launder money and it’s becoming quite a significant issue.

‘In June of this year, we’re going to run a conference on county lines involving our partners and some of our colleagues from Merseyside because unless we deal with it properly and swiftly, it could become a more significant issue in the island.’

What to Look Out For

The Chief Constable, in response to questions from Ms August-Hanson, said he isn’t convinced that county lines is a policy matter, but that it is a matter of ‘joining things up and sharing information and having professionals who understand the signs of county lines, but also parents who understand it as well’.

He added: ‘We’ve seen cases in the last year or so where parents have not thought twice about their children appearing in a new £200 North Face coat and not asking where it has come from. And it’s coming from drug dealing.

‘It is that lack of curiosity on the part of some people that causes some of this as an issue. So raising awareness is a key part of this and this conference that we’re having in June is a key part of raising awareness amongst professionals. There are some very good people in Manx Care who have a lot of experience in this world and we will work very closely with them to do what we can to improve the situation.’ 

What is ‘County Lines’?

County lines is a term borrowed from America and is less commonly referred to as county boundaries in the UK. In essence it involves illegal drugs being transported from one area to another, often across police and local authority boundaries, though not always. 

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


Mr Roberts said a ‘very small part’ of the work needing to be done relates to the upcoming Borders Bill, but that the wider issue is ensuring that public services work in a concerted way to put a stop to the county lines operations.

He added: ‘Since September, we’ve been involved in a lot of work with the Department of Education, Sport and Culture about how we provide the right packages to schools. So I went to the headteachers’ conference with some of my colleagues and I went back again a few weeks ago and we are putting together bespoke packages that will be rolled out across the island and these are the packages that the headteachers want, with the caveat that if a headteacher, if he or she had a particular problem, would get different support. But those packages will look at things like county lines, like carrying weapons, they’ll look at issues like exploitation and young people being exploited for sex and things like that. So it’s a really big piece of work.’