Gangs, County Lines and Child Criminal Exploitation: A Case Study of Merseyside


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research focuses on the involvement of gangs in County Lines drug dealing and processes of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE). Data were collected by way of semi- structured interviews, focus groups and informal discussions with two samples of participants:gang-involved or gang-associated young people, and practitioners working with gang-involved or gang-associated young people. Practitioners were from criminal justice agencies (Youth Offending Teams (YOTs), Police, Young Offender Institutes (YOIs)), third-sector organisations and Alternative Education Providers (AEPs). Research was conducted with participants from four of the five boroughs that make up Merseyside, and as such the project took on the form of a case study of one part of England. Thematic analysis was utilised to identify various themes in the samples. Practitioners provided their understandings of CCE and highlighted factors impacting their ability to help gang-involved young people in an age of austerity, and gang-involved young people discussed processes of County Lines drug dealing and provided examples of CCE.
The thesis provides numerous contributions to knowledge including: providing a thorough understanding of a complex problem; hearing the voices of often difficult to access groups of young people, and; capturing the realities of gangs, Child Criminal Exploitation and County Lines from Merseyside - a place which has largely been left out of academic debate surrounding gangs. Other findings examined how exploited young people adopted and internalised the role of exploiter and used moral neutralisation techniques to justify their criminal and exploitative behaviour.
In its entirety, the thesis offers humorous, heart-breaking and shocking accounts. It argues for the need to re-examine popular discourses of CCE and County Lines and understand the complexities in the everyday lives of those involved. The research project was the first of its kind to criminologically investigate the newly termed Child Criminal Exploitation and County Lines from a professional perspective and also from the lived experiences of children and young people growing up in Merseyside, during the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Date of Award15 Apr 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorANDREW MILLIE (Director of Studies), ELEANOR PETERS (Supervisor) & RICHARD PARRISH (Supervisor)

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