Last updated: 05.03.20

County lines gangs target universities by posing as students

County line drug gangs are enrolling on university courses at institutions across the UK in order to sell class A drugs to students, recent investigations have found.

Dealers who infiltrate campuses by enrolling on courses are using their status as students to allow them to set up operations in halls of residence in university towns. Their student occupation gives them a reason to be in the smaller towns that county lines networks operate in, and makes it easier to avoid arrest and suspicion.

It also allows them to recruit other students as new members, coercing or threating them to operate as drug runners on campus and beyond. Halls of residence are often used as bases of operations for county lines, with drug dealers forcing students to allow them to sell drugs from their university-provided flats.

An expert in criminology, Dr Mohammed Qasim of the London School of Economics, says the university county lines problem is only getting more prevalent: ‘From my discussions with people – both academics and people on the ground – this has been established as something that is happening at increasing numbers of universities.’

‘It's not hard to get into university - universities will take people through clearing. They won't actually go to university to study, it's just a reason to be in a particular place. The dealers now have to have an alibi as to why they're moving 200 miles from one place to another.’

County lines is a drug gang phenomenon which sees the dealers start up operations in smaller town across the country, controlling a network of runners by mobile phones, also known as ‘deal lines’. These runners are often young children or vulnerable adults who are forced into transporting the drugs.

The problem, and the phenomenon of county lines, is particularly prevalent in Wales where authorities believe that there are more than 100 county lines gangs operating across the country. Cocaine deaths in Wales are now over four times higher than five years ago.

Bangor University is one of the targeted Welsh universities where activity is overseen by drug gangs in Liverpool. The police force in North Wales are working alongside the university to educate students on the dangers of county lines operations.

Jon Aspinall of North Wales Polices believes that cooperation is the best tactic: ‘We are a close-knit community and have a good working relationship with the university, so we have an information-sharing agreement that helps us safeguard people’

But Dr Qasim believes that not enough is being done by the universities themselves: ‘I don’t think the universities are really focusing their energy on this. I think it is not being looked at as closely as it should and of course universities would say they have their reasons for not pursuing this given that they are reputable places trying to attract students from across the word’.

If you suspect county lines activity is being carried out at your university, or you know someone who may be a victim, you can contact the police on 101 or on 999 in an emergency situation. Alternatively, you can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 to report activity anonymously.

You can also check out our useful and informative downloadable resources, including this video on the six principles of safeguarding adults.