County lines violence spreading from larger cities as a result of lockdown policing

County lines raid on Merseyside Credit: ITV Granada

County lines violence is spreading from large cities to smaller towns due to Covid-19.

Charity representatives told a committee of MPs that the pattern of exploitation of young people by drugs gangs had evolved partly in response to enhanced policing in large cities over lockdown.

Joe Caluori from Crest Advisory said the "pattern of exploitation" was becoming more focused in "seaside and market towns".

Some of the gangs that are forming are perhaps - in a London or Birmingham or Liverpool context - the kind of geographic gang patterns we were seeing 10 years ago or so. We can't think of county lines exploitation as an urban phenomenon anymore

Joe Caluori, Crest Advisory, head of policy

Barnardo's chief executive Javed Khan said 'there are even more vulnerable young people now who are easy prey for exploitative gangs'

"Child criminal exploitation hasn't stopped during Covid-19, it's adapted."

Mr Khan added that over 30,000 young people had been referred to the See, Hear, Respond programme led by Barnardo's and funded by the Department for Education to help children and parents who were experiencing increased adversity during coronavirus.

Minister for safeguarding Victoria Atkins told the committee the Home Office had invested a £25 million package in responding to county lines issues.

The Government had invested in 18 violence reduction units around the country, "specialist support services" for under-25s in London, Merseyside and the West Midlands, and a national helpline to provide advice for those with concerns about exploitation.