County Lines Drug Dealing Networks Dressing Up Children as Key Workers to Transport Drugs During Lockdown

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 09: Police stand guard outside St Thomas' Hospital on April 09, 2020 in London, England. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still being cared for in the intensive care unit at St Thomas' Hospital after his coronavirus symptoms worsened on Monday night. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Criminal drug gangs in Britain have been dressing up children in key worker garb in order to avoid detection by the police during the national coronavirus lockdown.

With arrests of drug dealers soaring since the introduction of the lockdown, criminal networks known as ‘county lines’ — named for the mobile phone ‘lines’ used to organise drug distribution — have taken to dealing in busy supermarket and hospital cark parks, as well as dressing up youngsters in the outfits of key workers, such as supermarket workers, to present a credible reason for being outdoors during the lockdown.

“We are seeing a move to use private hire car companies and taxi companies to move children. We’re also seeing exploiters dress children up as key workers in order for them to avoid detection at this time,” James Simmons from the Children’s Society told Sky News.

“If they were being transported in trains, if they were in public spaces they’d be more visible, and that’s why we’ve seen exploiters dressing children up — using outfits that are for key workers so they can pass without being noticed — that’s why we’re also seeing them using taxis that no one is paying attention to,” Simmons added.

The Children’s Society said that child drug mules have also been dressed up as food delivery drivers to make home deliveries, adding that the public should take note when children are visiting homes in which only adults are living.

The known number of active country lines gangs operating in the country stands between an estimated 800 to 1,000.

The phenomenon of county lines networks developed as a result of drug dealing reaching a saturation point in urban centres like London. Thereafter, established London gangs took to expanding their operations into more rural areas of the country.

The criminal networks actively exploit youngsters — particularly from high crime multicultural urban areas with little social cohesion — to act as their drug mules, thereby adding a level of protection for the dealers themselves.

Criminal arrests of drug dealers have spiked during the national lockdown, with a 50 per cent rise over the same period in 2019.

In a six month operation carried out by London’s Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), 87 seven networks were taken out, with 183 people arrested on suspicion of trafficking drugs. The majority of those arrested were known gang members that have been previously convicted on weapons charges.

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