The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has today announced he is investing a further £1.8m in a programme that has provided nearly 400 young people with a positive way out of county lines activity.
Sadiq set up, and funds, the Rescue and Response service, which supports young people who are vulnerable and caught up in county lines drug distribution networks.
He has already invested almost £4 million from City Hall since setting up the programme in 2018, which is the first regional response service of its kind in the country. In the last three years, 430 young people have worked with the services, of which, more than 80 per cent have either reduced or been supported away from county lines activity.
The service has also carried out 80 rescues, which involves collecting a young person from another county following arrest, ensuring their safe return home and the provision of ongoing support to help divert them away from criminal gangs. Figures show that county lines networks spread across 41 counties.
County lines is the name given to drug dealing where phone lines are used to move and supply drugs, usually from cities into smaller towns and rural areas across the whole country.
In the last year alone the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre identified a potential 600 new lines.
The Mayor had already directed a further £750,000 investment from City Hall to help protect young Londoners at increased risk of being exploited by county lines gangs during the Covid-19 pandemic. After its success, Sadiq has now committed an additional £1.8m to March next year to help provide support for hundreds of young people and drive down county lines activity.
His new investment will mean an uplift in capacity to deal with the number of referrals into the programme – there have been more than 1,600 in the last three years – and to maintain the ‘rescue’ function to collect young Londoners found being exploited outside the capital.
City Hall funding will support frontline professionals to better identify and divert young people from exploitation, and crucially new investment has helped in the development of information and data on county lines, allowing for prioritisation of the most harmful lines and quicker identification of those being exploited.
The Rescue and Response programme was developed and is led by a coalition of London boroughs, including Brent, Islington and Newham, that help coordinate support across London for young people up to the age of 25. They work side by side with three service delivery partners, who provide tailored support for young people referred to the project:
- St Giles Trust – Provide support to young men involved in county lines activity, and operate an outreach rescue team
- Abianda – Provide one-to-one support for young women and girls involved in or affected by county lines activity
- Safer London – Provide support for young people involved in or impacted by criminal gangs
The Rescue and Response programme sits alongside the work being carried out by the Met police to dismantle county lines. The police have been targeting lineholders, who rarely leave the capital but are the ones dealing drugs and exploiting young people and vulnerable adults. Since November 2019, teams across the Met have closed 460 lines and arrested 960 county lines lineholders.
Officers have charged 1,198 individuals with offences including drug supply and human trafficking. More than 400 individuals have been safeguarded. The Met continues to work in close partnership with forces across the United Kingdom to destroy the county lines business model.
Investigative teams are set up both in London and in the county area where the line runs into, meaning it is shut down at source and the impact of the line’s supply is dealt with in the importing area. Since November 2019 the Met has worked with 22 forces all the way from Police Scotland to Devon and Cornwall.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:
“I’m determined to do everything I can to use the powers and resources I have as Mayor to support our young people who have been exploited by criminal gangs as part of county lines activity.
“Every young person saved from a life of exploitation is a success, so I’m really pleased that our Rescue and Response programme is beginning to have a big impact with nearly 400 young Londoners not only having cut ties with county lines gangs, but now benefiting from ongoing support and positive opportunities.
“We know there is still much more to do and that’s why I am investing an additional £1.8m, on top of the £4m already invested, in this critical service to boost capacity so we can rescue more young people and help them into training, education and towards employment.”
Geeta Subramaniam-Mooney, Corporate Director of Brighter Futures and Newham’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner, said:
“The Rescue and Response programme has demonstrated how coming together across London as local authorities, police, health, probation service and the National Co-ordination Centre, has enabled us to provide wrap around support for children and young people exploited through county lines. It has also for the first time been able to assess and analysis the data and evidence which provides a picture of the concern and areas we all need to focus further on, to prevent exploitation and harm.
“As Chair of the London Strategic Board for Rescue and Response since it’s design and implementation, I can see the real and tangible differences this is making to children’s lives.”
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty said:
“County lines causes real and visible harm to our communities. Young and vulnerable people are preyed upon, exploited, and used to traffic drugs across the country. The individuals running these lines are cowards. They hide behind vulnerable people and intimidate and coerce them into doing their dirty work, distancing themselves from the risk of getting caught.
“Over the last 18 months we’ve developed our approach to tackling county lines and now focus on bringing lineholders to justice. Not only are we going after them for drug supply, we are increasingly pursuing human trafficking charges against them. The seriousness of this exploitation is being reflected in the custodial sentences imposed by the courts.
“We work hard to safeguard children and vulnerable people at the earliest opportunity. Since November 2019 our teams dedicated to tackling county lines have safeguarded more than 400 people. These individuals are often threatened with violence and unable to escape. Services like Rescue and Response are vital in offering a way out and a place of safety for those at risk. I look forward to continuing our work with them.”
Abi Billinghurst, CEO of Abianda, said:
“We are incredibly grateful to the Mayor and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime for their kind support of the Rescue and Response service over the last three years.
“Young women and girls are often hidden or overlooked when responding to criminal exploitation and county lines, and as a result, do not get the help they need from services.
“There is more to do, including greater emphasis on identifying girls affected by these issues, growing understanding of girls’ experiences, and increased local provision. However, thanks to support from the Mayor, we have been able to work with over 120 incredibly vulnerable young women and girls, who face high levels of violence and abuse as a result of criminal exploitation. They now experience reduced levels of risk and harm and are more able to make the changes they want in their lives. We have also trained over 800 professionals through the programme, growing city-wide knowledge of the issues facing young women and girls affected by county lines, and equipping professionals with the expertise to better identify and support them.”