We have launched ‘Fortress’ in Sussex to encapsulate all our work for drug harm reduction. Any time you see the Fortress brand, we are working to tackle drug supply and drug related harm in your community.

County Lines

'County Lines' is a recent term used by police and partner agencies to refer to drug networks that originate from large urban areas such as London to more rural communities. These can be run by both gangs and organised crime groups, both of whom use children and young people and vulnerable adults to carry out illegal activity on their behalf. Gangs dealing drugs is not a new issue but the extent to which criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults, as well as the increasing use of violence, has become an inherent part of it through county lines makes it especially damaging.

The organised crime groups tend to use a local property, generally belonging to a vulnerable person, as a base for their activities. This is known as 'cuckooing' and will often happen by force or coercion. In some instances victims have left their homes in fear of violence. A large part of our work here involves identifying these victims and helping them.

The police continue to see children being exploited by criminal gangs to supply drugs in Sussex. We have experienced children travelling from London to our county to deal drugs on behalf of gangs, as well Sussex children being exploited and targeted by London gangs to deal drugs locally.  Our priority is to identify those children at risk of criminal exploitation and, once identified, work with partner agencies to put the appropriate safeguarding measures in place.


In order to tackle drug supply and exploitation in Sussex, we have adopted a concept originally created by Hampshire Constabulary. Every time you see Fortress in pictures or as '#Fortress', we are talking about our work to tackle drug related harm in your community. Fortress is beginning to extend across the south east, with forces collaborating to reinforce to drug gangs that this is a hostile environment for drug supply.

Key to our approach in tackling drug related harm is the Four P approach and our work under the Fortress umbrella will focus our efforts in the following areas:

Prevent: To identify vulnerable children and adults at risk exploitation by drug gangs at the earliest opportunity, through tailored initiatives and targeted activity seek to prevent or divert them away from this type of criminality.

Protect: To protect the most vulnerable in Sussex and those most susceptible to drug gang exploitation through effective partnership working, better focused sign posting for victims and perpetrators and more informed risk management.

Pursue: To deploy robust enforcement against those who supply drugs and exploit the vulnerable. Seek to disrupt and dismantle criminal groups, gangs or County Lines through intelligence led policing and working collaboratively with partners.

Prepare: We endeavour to reduce the impact of drug related harm where it takes place by making the best use of resources and working smarter with partner agencies.

Spot the Signs – what to look out for

County Lines gangs frequently use vulnerable children and adults to carry out work on their behalf. Have you noticed any of the following in people you know?

  • Persistently missing from school, college or where they should be, often to be found out-of-area;
  • Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes or mobile phones;
  • Excessive receipts of texts or phone calls;
  • Relationships with controlling, older people or gang association;
  • Leaving home or care without explanation
  • Significant changes in emotional well-being
  • A decline in school performance;
  • Parental concerns;
  • Unexplained injuries or suspicion of self-harm.

This list is not exhaustive, but gives a good idea of the type of signs to look out for if someone is being exploited for illegal activity.

What you can do about it

If you see the signs above, let us know. Don’t leave it to someone else. You can report online, or to 101. In an emergency, always call 999. Together, we can tackle drug crime and reduce the harm to your community.

There is no denying the associated crime and problems that drug supply brings to society, and our work in this area occurs all year round. We also take part in national weeks, sending a unified message to those that supply drugs that we are here to prevent the harm they are trying to bring to our communities. We will continue to communicate results that occur from our efforts to reduce drug harm in Sussex.

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