Partnership working key to stopping County Lines drug dealing


Merseyside Police and the Police Commissioner will play a leading role in an upcoming major two-day online conference to tackle the scourge of ‘County Lines’ drug dealing in communities across the UK.

County Lines refers to the phone lines that drug dealers use to sell drugs right around the country. County Lines is a term used when drug gangs from big cities expand their operations to smaller towns, often using violence to drive out local dealers and exploiting children and vulnerable people to sell drugs. These dealers will use dedicated mobile phone lines, known as 'deal lines', to take orders from drug users.

The conference, organised in partnership with Forbes Solicitors, which specialises in working with police forces and registered providers of social housing to address county lines and anti-social behaviour, takes place on 9-10 February.

It will focus on the contribution that housing providers can provide to address County Lines and ‘Cuckooing’ in our communities. Cuckooing is when drug dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to use it as a base for county lines drug trafficking.

Speakers at the virtual conference will include Merseyside Police, Merseyside’s Police Commissioner, Forbes Solicitors, housing associations, local authority teams, support providers, third sector organisations and community groups. They will be sharing best practice and highlighting the challenges they face in working together to stop organised crime groups from exploiting young and vulnerable people, often using violence, to deliver drugs for them.

Experts from the fields of legal enforcement, evidence and intelligence gathering, preventative initiatives, education and support will be pooling their knowledge and experience to address the complexities and challenges of the issue.

Themes will include a regional overview of County Lines, its impact on the social housing sector, case studies of partnership work between the South Sefton Neighbourhood police team and One Vision Housing to reduce cuckooing, and South Liverpool Homes' ‘Speke up’ campaign, and how modern day slavery feeds into County Lines. 

Merseyside Assistant Chief Constable Ian Critchley, who will open the conference, said: “It’s fantastic to see so many organisations, including housing associations, from across the country coming together to see how together we can work to eradicate County lines in our communities. Law enforcement alone cannot solve this problem.

“It is only by working closely together, as we are increasingly doing in Merseyside with partnerships including Everton in the Community, the LFC Foundation and St Giles Trust, that we are able to refer these victims for support and help them to forge a new life for themselves away from the degrading world of County Lines.  We also work closely with the Merseyside Violence Reduction Partnership which is taking an innovative, evidence-based public health approach to County Lines.”

Merseyside Detective Superintendent Andy O’Connor, who leads the Force’s County Lines operations, added: “This is more than illegal drug dealing, it involves the grooming and exploitation of vulnerable people by organised criminal gangs, who will coerce and commit violence to achieve their aims – blighting the communities they deal drugs in. So, when we identify vulnerable, exploited people during our enquiries, we will always ensure that they are treated with sensitivity and offered appropriate support.”

Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy said: “For me, a key element of my work is helping Merseyside Police to protect young people from being targeted and groomed by gangs to carry out their criminal activity.

“Merseyside Police do an outstanding job identifying and breaking down County Lines, but they cannot put a stop to it on their own. They need the support of their partners and their communities if they are to prevent vulnerable young people from being put at risk in the first place.

“This conference is a great opportunity to share learning and knowledge and examine the most effective ways we can do that. It is hugely reassuring that so many of our partners share this commitment and want to work alongside the police to put an end to this insidious, harmful crime.”

Head of Housing Consultancy Services at Forbes Solicitors, Darren Burton, said: “Merseyside Police is well renowned for their proactive and preventative approach to tackling the complex issue of county lines. This conference will help share their experience and create greater understanding of how registered providers of housing can work together with  public and private sector organisations to play a lead role in taking more immediate action against this type of crime. This can help avoid County Lines spreading to make communities safer.”

Invited organisations include:

  • Police (Merseyside, Cheshire, GMP, West Yorkshire and other constabularies)
  • The Children’s Society
  • Local Authorities (Social Care, Legal, Environmental Health etc.)
  • Housing Providers (Housing Managers, ASB / Neighbourhood Teams
  • National Probation Service
  • Local / National Charities & Support Agencies e.g. The Children’s Society etc.
  • Schools
  • Community Teams from Liverpool and Everton football clubs