Drug gangs doing lockdown business

by Mark Rowe

County lines drug gangs have been finding new ways of doing business during the Covid-19 lockdown; some dealers have dressed as joggers and created fake NHS ID badges to move around freely, according to the academic author of a new book on street gangs.

Prof Simon Harding says that as dealers now try to avoid selling drugs on the streets they are instead turning to social media, drive-by sales, or letterbox drops to prevent infection. Where street activity continues, some dealers have dressed as joggers to avoid police detection, while others have created fake NHS ID badges to move around freely.

New tactics and methods have also led to a reduction in ‘cuckooing’ – whereby gang members take over the home of a vulnerable person to carry out cutting, sorting and dealing drugs. Now seen as too risky for health, the priority for street gangs has become to set up their own dealing hubs.

He said: “Covid-19 has brought swift changes in how drug gangs are doing business, with many dealers adhering to social distancing and safety measures.

“On one hand they really are heeding government advice on social distancing, but at the same time it is business as usual and as people were panic-buying food, dealers were running bulk deals and selling lockdown party packs.

“Vehicles are being used more often to carry out deals arranged by phone with products thrown from windows and money chucked on the back seat to keep items clean.

“Current travel restrictions are also affecting the whole model of traditional county lines. Sending groups of young lads out to Southend-on-Sea by train to carry drugs is too risky now, so increasingly dealers are driving runners around, or hiring local people to do the job.

“Street gangs are being forced to find new tactics, such as shifting grooming and recruitment online to social media. This means young people can become ensnared in dangerous gang activity from their phones while their families have no idea and that is a worry.”

He is director of the National Centre for Gang Research (NCGR) at the University of West London (UWL); visit His book, County Lines: Exploitation and Drug Dealing among Urban Street Gangs, is published by Bristol University Press.

Photo by Mark Rowe; on-street drug deal, east Ham, winter afternoon.

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