According to Home Office figures, 140,000 young people go missing in Britain every year. They disappear for a multitude of reasons: family conflict, addiction, financial breakdown, mental health issues. But in recent years, Missing People, one of the charities backed by the Telegraph in this year’s Christmas Appeal, has picked up on a previously under-reported group who go missing: children being groomed to traffic drugs.
As a report from the National Crime Agency (NCA) made clear this week, inner-city gangs have expanded their operations and started selling drugs into lucrative markets in rural or coastal areas and small towns. Known as ‘county lines’ – areas targeted for expansion are commonly ‘county’ towns and the ‘line’ is the specific telephone number used for dealing – the trade is mainly in crack cocaine and heroin.
Once a new area is identified, the gangs set up a base for rest, refuge, storage and distribution of drugs, weapons and money. These are secured through ‘cuckooing’ – slang for taking over someone’s home, often with the use of weapons. Addicts are popular targets.