Brighton is the top target of county lines dealers according to a new report from London City Hall.
Children as young as ten are being recruited by London gangs to sell drugs outside the capital, with customers able to call dedicated mobile phones to place orders.
The report says more than 3,000 people were identified nationally as having a link to county lines dealing from May 2019 to April 2020.
Of those, 59% were linked with a specific town, and 128 with Brighton – the most of any town in the UK.
Most of the towns in the top ten are within easy reach of London – although Northampton is at number 9 and Swansea at number 10.
The report also echoed what Sussex Police has said about how lockdown has affected the gangs’ supply chains.
It says: ” Public spaces became empty, including streets, roads and trains. This made criminal activity easier to spot and the grooming of young people more difficult.
“Drug supply chains were interrupted, leading to some county lines closing; opening up gaps in the market.
“The demand for drugs during the lockdown period was reportedly very high.”
The report says dealers adapted by using more collection and delivery, supplying in bulk, using cars rather than trains and even posing as key workers.
The report says dealers are using social media to groom young people, particularly Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube.
Job ads promising lots of money have been placed on Snapchat, followed up with threats of serious violence if the young person subsequently tries to pull out.
One young person watched a YouTube music video which glamourised dealing, which linked them to someone on Snapchat.
Young people can also get added to groups on WhatsApp where job adverts are placed
Smaller platforms like Wickr and Telegraph and various gaming platforms.
In one case, several young people in different areas were groomed onto the same county line and it’s thought initial contact was made via a gaming platform.
Grooming also happens in real life, with schools, colleges and even a fast food outlet identified as case studies.
Although most youths recruited by the gangs are boys and young men, young women are increasingly being used.
It’s thought this may be because they raise less suspicion, but also because they can be more vulnerable to threats related to housing or even their children.
The people at the top of the county lines are thought to operate from inside prisons, where new young recruits can also be groomed.