A children’s author from Blackburn has made it her mission to educate young people about the dangers of county lines.

During a week of intensification by Lancashire police, which saw 17 people arrested in the east of the county during drugs raids, and protection and prevention activities taking place in schools and youth groups, Christina Gabbitas visited two primary schools to raise awareness about the serious issue.

Sergeant Mick Aspden of Lancashire Police organised policing teams from Blackburn and Accrington to accompany Christina during county lines intensification week, visiting St Andrews Primary School in Oswaldtwistle and St Pauls Feniscowles.

Headteacher at St Andrew’s, Christina Wilkinson, emphasised the significance of having Christina deliver the age-appropriate sessions, ensuring that children are well-informed and aware of the potential risks.

Lancashire Telegraph: Pupils from St Paul's FeniscowlesPupils from St Paul's Feniscowles (Image: Christina Gabbitas)

She said: “Children are vulnerable to grooming at a young age, making early intervention crucial.

"It is our responsibility to educate them about the risks before they fall victim to exploitation.

“I firmly believe that storytelling is the most effective way to impart these essential lessons."

Christina's second children’s book, Trapped in County Lines, tells the story of 13-year-old Luke who goes missing, leaving readers eager to discover his fate.

Through thorough research and engaging with various individuals, from ex-gang members to law enforcement, Christina ensures her stories accurately reflect the realities of county lines and its impact on young lives.

Trapped in County Lines, and the prequel, No More Knives or County Lines, cater to different age groups, providing valuable insights, raising awareness among children aged 10 and above.

Previously commissioned to write her books by the crime commissioners in Humberside and North Yorkshire, Christina has crafted stories to engage children and young people on this pressing issue.

She is currently seeking funding for a third story, following the success of her previous works.

  • What is County Lines?

County Lines is where illegal drugs are transported from one area to another, often across police and local authority boundaries, usually by children or vulnerable people who are coerced into it by gangs.

The ‘county line’ is the mobile phone line used to take the orders of drugs.

Importing areas are reporting increased levels of violence and weapon-related crimes as a result.

A common feature in county lines drug supply is the exploitation of young and vulnerable people.

The dealers will frequently target children and adults - often with mental health or addiction problems - to act as drug runners or move cash so they can stay under the radar of law enforcement.

In some cases, the dealers will take over a local property, normally belonging to a vulnerable person, and use it to operate their criminal activity from.

This is known as cuckooing.

People exploited in this way will quite often be exposed to physical, mental and sexual abuse, and in some instances will be trafficked to areas a long way from home as part of the network's drug dealing business.

As police in Lancashire have seen in child sexual exploitation, children often don't see themselves as victims or realise they have been groomed to get involved in criminality.

So it's important that everyone plays a part to understand county lines and speaks out with any concerns.

What are the signs?

The signs of grooming can be hard to see but drug gangs are grooming children in Lancashire.

The key thing to look for in a young or vulnerable person who maybe being exploited in this way is a change in behaviour or circumstances, including:

  • Having more clothes, mobile phones, or cash than normal
  • Frequently going missing then returning home
  • Using nicknames to refer to other people
  • New friends, habits, attitude
  • Truancy, exclusion, disengagement from school
  • Unexplained injuries

If you think there may be dealing or drugs activity happening at a property, the key things to look out for are:

  • An increase in visitors and cars to a house or flat
  • New faces appearing at the house or flat
  • Change in resident's mood and/or demeanour (e.g. secretive/ withdrawn/ aggressive/ emotional)
  • Substance misuse and/or drug paraphernalia
  • Residents or young people you know going missing, maybe for long periods of time
  • Young people seen in different cars/taxis driven by unknown adults
  • Young people seeming unfamiliar with your community or where they are
  • An increase in anti-social behaviour in the community

What to do if you have concerns?

The best advice is to trust your instincts.

Even if someone isn't involved in county lines drug dealing, they may be being exploited in some other way, so it's always worth speaking out.

If you believe that someone may be involved in a county line or other drugs activity, tell the police by calling 101 or report any information anonymously online at crimestoppers-uk.org

If you think someone is in immediate danger, dial 999.

Further information can be found at:

  • Lancashire - Tackling County Lines Together - https://www.lancashire.police.uk/help-advice/safer-communities/county-lines/
  • Eyes Open - Lancashire Constabulary - https://eyes-open.co.uk/area/lancashire/
  • County Lines - National Crime Agency - https://nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/what-we-do/crime-threats/drug-trafficking/county-lines