Fortress is the name we've given to the work we're doing 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 term used which refers 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 are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to carry out illegal activity on their behalf.

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, intimidation 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 as 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.


We work with other police forces under Fortress to reinforce to drug gangs that this is a hostile environment for drug supply.
Our approach to tackling drug related harm is the Four P approach where we focus our efforts:

  • Prevent: To identify vulnerable children and adults at risk exploitation by drug gangs at the earliest opportunity, through tailored initiatives and targeted activity to prevent or divert them away from this type of crime.
  • Protect: To protect those who are at risk of becoming victims of drug gang exploitation by working with partner agencies, ensuring 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 vulnerable people. Disrupt and prosecute serious organised crime through intelligence led policing and working with partners.
  • Prepare: To provide victims, witnesses and local communities affected by this crime with the support they need.

Spot the signs – what to look out for

County lines gangs frequently use vulnerable children and adults to carry out illegal activity 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.

What you can do about it

If you see the signs above, or you suspect drug dealing is taking place in your local area, tell us. Don’t leave it to someone else.

Tell us by reporting online, or by calling 101. In an emergency, always call 999. If you're deaf or hard of hearing, use our textphone service on 18001 101.
If you’d rather report anonymously, then call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or by email via

Together, we can tackle drug crime and reduce the harm to your community.

Other help

We understand that you may not feel comfortable talking to us. The charities, groups and organisations below can offer help and advice without having to talk directly to the police.

Fearless: offers advice and guidance and allows you to pass on information about crime anonymously.

Change, Grow Live: a national health and social care charity which provides free and confidential services and support.

Children’s Society: provides advice and helps support vulnerable young people.

Childline: offers free and confidential help for young people.

Missing People: SafeCall provides a non-judgemental safe space for children to talk about their experiences in confidence.

FRANK: provides straight-talking information about drugs – their helpline number is 0800 77 66 00.

Families Anonymous: support groups for family and friends of people with a current, suspected or former drug problem. Their helpline number is 0845 1200 660.

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