Youth Unity - County Lines

A mother’s story whose son was recruited to sell drugs

‘I found out my son was dealing drugs, with my middle class mum friends buying cocaine off boys just like him’

The boy bringing cocaine to the door of Lucy’s* friend looked really young.

“Thanks for your business,” he’d said as drugs and money were exchanged.

It was painful for her to witness.

Not long before she’d discovered her own son had been selling drugs, couriering them to addresses just like this child.

He’d been terrified, trapped in dangerous and illegal work by the older boys who’d recruited him.

“Seeing how young he was and knowing what my son had been through I was making the link between the two,” she told MyLondon.

“My friend’s children are much younger. She’d not made the connection that this young guy here was her son in just a few years’ time.”

Upset, Lucy challenged her friend about funding such an operation, highlighting the boy’s age. But her friend batted it away.

“They’re all really young,” she had replied.

Later that same day, Lucy encountered another acquaintance who was going through some personal turmoil and had been up all night.

“I’m dying for some coke,” she told her in between showing adorable pictures of her children to the other women there.

These events took place, not in a deprived area where drug users are a visible presence, but in a wealthy neighbourhood in West London with clean streets and expensive houses.

The women Lucy described as taking cocaine regularly are part of respectable circles of middle-aged professionals, who blend easily into London’s upmarket coffee shops and artisan bakeries.

They are also a group who totally disconnects their drug use from the trade which is destroying poorer areas of the city and fuelling violence across the capital.

This is the story of how one family was caught in the middle of a West London drugs line with eyes on both the exploited and the customers they serve.

How it started

Lucy’s son was 14 when she noticed he started to change.

“He had eyes like saucers,” she said. “He was aggressive, going out late and not letting me know where he was going. At one point he punched a hole in his bedroom wall.”

There was a lot going on in the family’s life at that time and he was a teenager she reasoned it would be understandable for him to be acting out.

She knew he had been scared of gang activity in the area for while, he was acutely aware of the evidence of the violence it provoked.

“He was constantly worried about blood on the streets and I’m not using that as a metaphor, literally blood on the streets.

“As we’d be walking you’d see blood and say ‘oh, there was a stabbing last night.’”

The multiple forms of modern communication Lucy’s son used to talk with his friends meant he often had details about the crime before they were public too.

“They’ve all got their WhatsApp and TikTok groups and they’re sharing information among themselves,” she added. “They know which gang was involved, who got attacked and if someone’s been arrested.

“So they were hearing the news from their peer group before it even got into the papers.”

The fear was so great there were times that he didn’t want to go to places alone. When that suddenly stopped and he was meeting with friends, there was no reason to think anything was amiss.

Warning signs

One of the first clear signs that her son was getting mixed up in something darker was when he began bringing boys to his house that he seemed to be afraid of.

“I kind of keep an open house,” she continued. “My kids can always bring their friends back. But these boys that he was bringing weren’t like his usual friends.

“They were really monosyllabic and they just brought out an atmosphere with them into the house.

“They’d crash out in the living room and I’d come down in the morning and say isn’t it time they went home, my son would be kind of reluctant to speak to them or ask them to go.”

The boys would smoke inside and generally acted like they owned the place, when it came to Lucy having to kick them out even she felt intimidated.

Another strange thing she noticed was that people would appear outside the house late at night, her son would rush out and hand them something, before going back inside.

When she challenged him about it he said it was just a friend dropping something off.

Then there was the money.

“He suddenly had stack-loads of money,” she continued. “I mean, a 14-year-old kid with £50 notes? That wasn’t pocket money.”

Lucy’s suspicions were confirmed when her partner at the time overheard her son talking with a friend about taking and dealing drugs.

When she confronted him about it the façade he’d been maintaining for months collapsed.

“He went from being kind of a cocky 14-year-old saying ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about mum’ to actually really breaking down, sobbing and saying how he was really scared,” she said.

“When you’re 14 or 15, you’re kind of very grown-up and, at the same time, you’re still a child. He desperately wanted to be tough, but he desperately wanted help.”

Once the silence had been broken Lucy’s son was then able to explain how he’d ended up becoming involved.

Like so many others it started with him being the victim of crime.

How it happened

He was first targeted playing football with friends one evening after school.

“He’d been approached by older boys and they threatened him,” she explained. “He got his phone got stolen at knifepoint and then he was really scared.

“He was frightened to report it to the police, although we eventually did. He then became very scared of gangs.”

Lucy’s son was so afraid he believed he must join one otherwise he wouldn’t be protected.

The frightening thing was that the gateway to that involvement was not necessarily through the strangers that threatened him, it was via longstanding friendships with people she’d known since they were little.

“His friends had started to get involved and friends from his childhood,” she added. “It became almost like the normal thing to do, for him and that age group. And it was cool.”

Although it was better her son had come clean about what was going on, it didn’t make the reality of the situation any less terrifying for Lucy.

The thought of trying to get her son out made her worry about the safety of the whole family.

“We were scared,” she said. “Our house was suddenly potentially on the radar for a whole load of really dodgy people. My other children were also being put at risk.”

So like most people would in this situation, Lucy turned to the authorities for help.

She reached out to a police officer acquaintance because she knew the idea of going directly to the force was terrifying for her son.

But the response she got disturbed her.

“Well, the police will already know,” he told Lucy. “They’ll already know everything about it and have his photo on the wall if he’s involved in cycling around making drops.”

The idea that the police were aware of children acting as couriers for drug dealers and not acting to help was horrifying. But Lucy was somehow not surprised.

“I don’t think anyone in London can deny there’s a bit of a problem with police,” she added with a sigh.

Eventually, she sent her son away to live in a different place altogether, because there was no way out by staying in London.

MyLondon has contacted the Metropolitan Police about its approach to tackling teenage drug dealing and was awaiting a response at the time of publication.

But child dealers were not the only set of drug sellers not being stopped.

Her son’s case has made her more conscious of another group who are able to act with relative impunity because they are middle-aged well-dressed women who no one suspects are selling narcotics.

‘A cocaine-fuelled 50th’

When a friend asked if she could have a 50th birthday at her house Lucy thought nothing of it.

She’d had her own party not that long before and it had been a lot of fun, boozy, but hardly debauched.

On the surface the people who came all held respectable careers. But she soon discovered what bound the middle-aged group together was something more illicit.

“One woman was a marketing director, there were bankers, plumbers, builders and teachers,” she explained. “But the thing that seemed to unite most of them, the real hardcore group, was cocaine.”

Lucy felt naïve to have allowed her to have a party at her house, she eventually ended up shutting things down and kicking them out.

It was the next day she made a disturbing discovery.

“I found a bag which had just a roll of cash in it,” she said. “So I texted her immediately and said, ‘I don’t know whose money it is or what it’s doing here, but it’s nothing to do with me.’

“I just wanted to distance myself, but when you’re in a situation like that what do you do? Call the police? And then they come to my house.”

After that incident, Lucy completely cut off contact with the woman in question.

When she asked why she didn’t want to see her anymore, she told her straight.

“You’re really dangerous,” Lucy said. “You’re dealing drugs.”

“I’m not a dealer, how insulting,” the woman replied.

“You’re selling drugs, that’s dealing that’s what it’s called,” Lucy repeated, but the woman was convinced the term didn’t apply to her.

‘Do you want any class As?’

It was after another party with so-called respectable professionals that Lucy was offered drugs.

“In the summer I went to a party,” she continued.

“It was a bunch of women, academics and journalists and who’ve known each other for years, a lot of us were at university together and we’re all mums.”

Another old friend turned up who she began to suspect might have been under the influence of something stronger than alcohol.

“She didn’t offer anything around that night, but you had a sense that she was [on something],” she said.

“Then two days later, she rang me up and asked me if I wanted any class As.”

“She is a tiny little blonde women who is beautifully dressed and no one would suspect is selling.”

‘Please don’t offer my kids hash’

Lucy pointed out that there is a misconception that as people enter middle age their behaviour suddenly snaps into a conventional stereotype.

Generation X might be in their 40s and 50s, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve cut out the drugs they were doing in the 1990s and 2000s.

If anything they have more funds than they did in their youth to buy drugs that were previously out of their price range.

“People who got into it, quite a lot of them haven’t stopped,” she continued.

“A lot did it in their youth and they’ve continued to take drugs.”

She wonders how they would respond to dealing with the situation she has with her son.

“What do you do if your kids then start selling? Or if your kids start using, if you’re using?” she wondered.

Some parents even go further, attempting to share their drug habits with their children directly.

Lucy has even had to tell friends directly not to offer her children cannabis.

“There’s a line between being a parent and being a cool hipster,” she added.

“You’ve got to grow up when you’re a parent, you can’t be doing all of that stuff. You’ve got to stop.”

‘The perfect customers’

A former drug dealer who MyLondon spoke to for this story said the clientele Lucy’s son and his friends were serving were the “ideal customers”.

“Everyone wants to get them,” they said. “Because no one suspects that they’ll be using drugs.

“I used to have a guy who ran a media company, he’d turn up in a nice car and always bought large amounts of cocaine for a lot of money.

“Coke is a rich person’s drug, it’s easy to deal with the people buying it because they don’t bring the heat on you, they don’t have a criminal record and won’t be being followed by police.”

They explained that the interactions between buyer and dealer were far easier to hide compared to stereotypical users.

“If the police were to come by when you were selling to them they wouldn’t think anything of it,” they added.

“But when you’re dealing with scraggily-looking crackheads and you’re a person of colour it’s very obvious what’s going on.

“The police will also follow those types of users to see where they are going and who they are buying from.”

He added that wealthy cocaine users were particularly common in West London and the dealers serving them often had lots more money than sellers in other parts of the city.

Middle-class crackdown

Middle-class drug users were the target of a double-pronged attack by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel in October.

First Patel announced that the government planned new measures that targeted so-called ‘lifestyle’ users whose numbers were found on dealers’ phones.

“We [will] bring down the harshest possible legal sanctions and consequences for these drug users,” the Home Secretary said.

“Including criminal sanctions, fines, curfews, compulsory drug awareness courses and the removal of their passports.”

This was followed up by the Prime Minister specifically linking the violence in urban areas to the drugs trade which serves more affluent parts of the country.

“We are looking at doing things to tackle those so-called lifestyle drug users who don’t think they are part of the problem. In the end, all the demand is helping to create the problem,” he said at a speech in Liverpool.

Currently, the plans laid out by Patel and Johnson suggest that they will be able to target these users when seizing phones owned by dealers.

The problem is that relies on the luck of landing a device filled with such contacts or incriminating material.

As most people in the trade know, a canny dealer will continue to change numbers and drug lines operate using multiple handsets.

A ‘West London county line’

Wealthy West London users might not have to beg, hustle or steal for their next fix, but that doesn’t mean they are not as wedded in the criminal networks that supply their drugs.

If anything their money makes the machine even better equipped to elude the authorities and further up the chain fill the pockets of organised crime.

It took Lucy aback just how easily her friend was able to summon a teenage drug dealer with cocaine to her door.

“It was like Deliveroo,” Lucy said. “It was as easy as ordering an Uber Eats.”

The process worked the same as a ‘county line,’ using the right code words, her friend navigated her way through several phone calls, dialling one and being be redirected to another until eventually the order was placed.

It’s a method associated with the trade in rural locations, but rather than serving a rural location, this ‘city line’ for rich people in west London.

For Lucy, the knowledge of how any of this worked showed a connection between her friend and the criminal network that was more than “casual”.

“If you actually have the number and you have the code word, next to your Pizza Express delivery, That’s quite a level of being involved,” she added.https://get-latest.convrse.media/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mylondon.news%2Fnews%2Fwest-london-news%2Fi-found-out-son-dealing-22885910%3Futm_source%3Dtwitter.com%26utm_medium%3Dsocial%26utm_campaign%3Dsharebar%26s%3D09&cre=bottom&cip=140&view=web

There might be superficial differences between the ‘scraggily crackhead’ and the wealthy user.

But the only real one that matters is that at the moment the middle-class drug taker gets away with it.

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