Crime in Cheltenham
Hidden Crime in Cheltenham: County Lines and signs to look for
County Lines. A modern hidden crime which few people talk about.
County Lines is the exploitation of children and young people to move drugs across the country. It involves gangs establishing the location of a vulnerable home and taking it over known as ‘cuckooing’. Young people are groomed to get involved by cutting and selling drugs. This can happen in Cheltenham as they send people to take over properties to carry out the business. It is constantly changing how urban gangs get young people involved.
Crimestoppers, Regional Manager for Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, Emily van der Lely said: “There's no stereotype of who that young person could be. So they could come from an amazingly well to do family, to a family who may be struggling financially. There's no set picture although there used to be. These people are really clever. It could also be that these young people that are doing the drug running, actually live their normal day life, go to school, have great grades, and then when they're allowed out, they are doing the distribution. So it's a very hidden crime.”
County Line is actually the phone line. So, from London to a location that could be Cheltenham, a message is sent at the main base to someone here who is responsible for relaying that to the young people and overseeing the business. The children are often emotionally invested so caught in a vicious cycle unable to get out of it.
Emily continues: “Some of the young people are being forced to do things that are not within their comfort zone. The drug dealers have got a hold on them. It's also then that they fear for their own safety. But you've got to remember, they built up a relationship, so that person now knows where their family lives, where they go to school, what their family does for a living. So the hold that they've gotten on them goes far more than just a simple, whatever is they've made them do.”
During the recruitment of young people, they are often taken on a variety of transport. For regular travellers on the train, there may be a young person who doesn't look comfortable, isn't sure about their location or doesn't have the same accent, these could be signs they are being groomed. The best thing to do is just approach them to ask if they’re are okay.
Usually, money is owed to trap the young person to carry on with the crime. Emily said: “So the hold that they've got on them is far more than just a simple, whatever is they've made them do. There is usually a debt involved as usually they will be robbed. It will be nine times out of time organized by the drug dealers themselves that are actually getting their own money back”.
What are the signs to look out for?
It's a hidden crime so parents and carers are being encouraged to look into to ensure that they understand what some of the signs are to look out for;
. Having two phones
. Being anxious
. Lots of new clothes
. Having lots of money
. Suddenly becoming confident
. Getting into trouble with the police eg. shoplifting, burglary or theft
. Frequently going missing
. Meeting unfamiliar adults
Emily gives advice if someone is needing help or is worried about someone: “The biggest message is, this is happening everywhere. And we're not trying to discourage people from living their lives. So I think the most important thing to say is, it’s a small crime that is happening. But you know, every partner agency that is working with the police, just like Crimestoppers is keen to ensure that people feel safe.”
Generally, children aged between 11-16 are targeted by the people organising the deals, however, there is no set age or stereotype for this crime so anyone can be affected. Even though the percentage in Cheltenham is very small compared to bigger cities, recognising it can be the best steps to help prevent it.
The important message is to speak up and stay safe.
Written by Erin Wright
Crime in Cheltenham
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