Hollyoaks to explore child criminal exploitation through county lines

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by Stephen Chapman

Lime Pictures’ teen soap, Hollyoaks, is set to air a hard-hitting storyline looking at child criminal exploitation through county lines with school-age children and teen characters.

Due to air next year, producers are working closely with charity The Children’s Society.

The decision to investigate the subject, comes after a National Crime Agency  study, which said that county lines exploitation is present across all police areas in England and Wales. 

“County lines” is when drug gangs from big cities expand their network into smaller towns, exploiting children and vulnerable people.

Over the course of a year, Hollyoaks characters, Juliet (Niamh Blackshaw), Charlie (Charlie Behan), Sid (Billy Price) and Ella (Erin Palmer) will be groomed to carry out criminal activity.

It will all begin with an hour-long “flash-forward” episode, which will be aired on E4 on December 27th and Channel 4 on the 30th December.

“Hollyoaks has a good model for telling real-life stories that are happening to our audience right now,” explained Hollyoaks Executive Producer Bryan Kirkwood.

“We have a strong and award-winning formula of how to talk to young people without them feeling lectured. A recent statistic found that 40 per cent of people who watch Hollyoaks watch it in a traditional way, at home with family or friends.  So, we are in a very strong position to start vital conversations in the living room.

“County lines child exploitation is terrifying and every month the writers come in telling stories of their children’s schools on lock-down, or weapons being confiscated. It’s in the news and in our court systems.

“We want young people and parents to know the signs and what to do if you think it’s happening to your child or someone they know.”

The Children’s Society has been consulted throughout the writing and research of the story.

“Day in day out we see the devastating impact that criminal exploitation and grooming of children through county lines operations has upon young lives,” said Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society.

“These criminals groom children into trafficking their drugs for them with promises of money, friendship and status. Once they've been drawn in, these children are controlled using threats, violence and sexual abuse, leaving them traumatised and living in fear.

“This can happen to any child in any community and we applaud the bold move by Hollyoaks to shine a light upon this serious issue by bringing it to a fictional suburb of what is seen as a relatively affluent city.

“We welcome the opportunity to offer advice to the writers and cast to help ensure the story is portrayed in a way which shows the terrifying reality of exploitation.”