My Experience of How Middle England is Being Seduced by County Lines | Benjamin Sanders
I’m standing in my living room with a cup of tea on a Sunday morning in late March, looking out the window across the road. It’s nearly 9am, and everything is as quiet as you might expect. Then a stranger, a man who does not live in the road, walks past my house and stops in front of a neighbour’s window. He raises his hand and makes some kind of gesture, before strolling off down an alley and turning left out of sight. A minute later, the woman of the house, a wife and mother, races out the front door in her dressing gown, and goes the same way the man went. Thirty seconds later she hastily returns from the alleyway with her right hand firmly in her pocket; takes one look around to check nobody has seen her, and goes back inside.
Now that might seem like an odd occurrence – it absolutely is – but in my neck of the woods, a middle class neighbourhood in a Cathedral city in southern England, this behaviour has become increasingly common over the last 2 years. There has been talk of Covid lockdowns pushing people into addiction, which is almost certainly a reality, but the problems with drugs of course go back further. Indeed, the business in dealing them has certainly become more open and obvious, with the morning rush hour now a time of peak activity.
About a month later, I’m halfway through my morning jog, and I come to the end of a path and go up a slope towards a bus stop. Coming from the opposite direction is a teenage boy on an electric scooter, wearing a black hood over his head despite the warm weather, and I notice a bag slung around his shoulders. After I cross the road and turn a corner, I see a middle aged man ahead crouched over and fiddling with something. As I approach and then overtake him, he suddenly realises I’m there and stuffs a small plastic bag under his arm.
When I’m walking my dog around the block in the evening a few days later, an element of déjà vu is apparent with the same incident happening again almost to the letter. This time though, the boy on the scooter speeds by with two other boys, and this time a lady is the individual to hastily bury a bag in her pockets as I cross the road on my way home.
Why comfortable middle aged adults, with children at good schools and respectable careers, are increasingly turning to drug abuse is an important and urgent question. As I mentioned the pandemic is one reason, but there is definitely a much more fundamental change in behaviour going on, where people in broad daylight – even in well-to-do areas- are dealing illegal substances with no fear of the law. Of course in larger metropolitan areas this kind of black market activity has always gone on, but where I am it would have been considered unthinkable just 3 years ago. The reality is that the arrival of County Lines drug gangs changed everything.
The system of dealing in my semi-rural area is very similar to that in large conurbations such as Greater Manchester, Birmingham, and of course London. Adults are the ring leaders, yet it is usually teenage couriers, sometimes acting on behalf of their parents or an older male relative, who do the ‘drop offs’ on bikes or scooters before and after school. Sometimes dealers live in tents temporarily in local greenfield sites, with an item of clothing slung on a branch next to a footpath to help approaching clients find their location. Don’t be under any illusion as to the motives of children being involved either, as many of them don’t have a choice. According to a recently published report by the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab, many children who are peer pressured into being couriers suffer all kinds of hardship, from sexual abuse to having their hair and fingernails pulled out.
Police may have boasted recently of arresting 1,100 individuals involved with County Lines, but the reality is that this just scratches the surface, as the number of people involved is truly remarkable. The NCA (the National Crime Agency) have claimed that the number of gangs has fallen nationally from 2000 down to 600 in the last 2 years, although the reality, certainly in my area, is that this is because of gangs consolidating and pushing out smaller rivals, rather than any reduction in drug-related dealing.
When we think of drug abuse and addiction, we tend to think of youngsters in their teens and twenties, rather than mature people in their forties and fifties- perhaps they are simply better at hiding it?. I would say in my area at least, White middle-aged parents are the most common demographic buying drugs, and their addiction acts like a magnet for other criminal activity linked to the gangs, such as car break-ins.
When thinking about this issue I remembered watching Ross Kemp’s documentary, Extreme World Chicago, which detailed, rather graphically, the city’s epidemic of drug-related addiction and crime. Despite being filmed 10 years ago, the dynamics of the situation there, although not on the same scale, were very similar to what is going on now – inner city gangs supplying drugs to the wealthy suburbs.
In order to fix the problem over here in Britain, both sides of the issue – the gangs and the addicts – need to be sorted out without any political correctness getting in the way. Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, was correct in pointing out last year that addicts in White middle class areas of London were fuelling drug gangs, though her failure to portion any blame to the drug gangs themselves was rightly condemned. Balance is always needed, and the majority blame should always be put on the criminals who are primarily causing the problem. This is especially necessary as, according to a recent report in The Metro, 573 vulnerable children were being used by the 1,100 gang members recently arrested that I mentioned above.
For now, where I live, the culture of drug addiction is beginning to seep into the local landscape, and although not on the same scale as America’s opioid crisis by any stretch of the imagination, it doesn’t really provide a very optimistic view of the future. Seeing cars pull up and deals taking place as children walk to the local Catholic Primary School is, and will become, increasingly difficult to ignore.