Covid-19 and Child Criminal Exploitation in the UK: Implications of the Pandemic for County Lines




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Peer reviewed



In March 2020, the UK was placed in lockdown following the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Just as legitimate workplaces made changes to enable their employees to work from home, the illicit drugs trade also made alternative arrangements, adapting its supply models to ensure continuity of operations. Based upon qualitative interviews with 46 practitioners, this paper assesses how front-line professionals have experienced and perceived the impact of Covid-19 on child criminal exploitation and County Lines drug supply in the UK. Throughout the paper, we highlight perceived adaptations to the County Lines supply model, the impact of lockdown restrictions on detection and law enforcement activities aimed at County Lines, and on efforts to safeguard children and young people from criminal exploitation. Our participants generally believed that the pandemic had induced shifts to County Lines that reflected an ongoing evolution of the drug supply model and shifts in understanding or attention because of the Covid-19 restrictions, rather than a complete reconstitution of the model itself. Practitioners perceived that Covid-19 has had, and continues to have, a significant impact on some young people’s vulnerability to exploitation, on the way in which police and frontline practitioners respond to County Lines and child criminal exploitation and on the way illegal drugs are being moved and sold


The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
open access article


Organised crime, drug supply, law enforcement, safeguarding, covid-19


Brewster, B., Robinson, G., Silverman, B., and Walsh, D., (in press). Covid-19 and Child Criminal Exploitation in the UK: Implications of the Pandemic for County Lines. Trends in Organized Crime


Research Institute

Centre for Law, Justice and Society