Hollyoaks airs a specially extended episode focusing on the county lines drug dealing storyline on Monday 13th April at 7pm (E4) which sees the lives of the village teens change forever as they fall deeper into the dangerous world of underage substance trafficking.
The soap has been tackling the topical issue since late 2019, but the hour-long edition promises to heighten the stakes as school kids Juliet Nightingale (Niamh Blackshaw) and Sid Sumner (Billy Price) carry out their first job for sinister gang leader Jordan Price.
‘County lines’ is the term given to the grooming and exploitation of vulnerable young people by organised crime networks to move narcotics around the country, especially to rural areas and provincial towns, with the intention of selling them while making it harder for police from multiple counties to track the activity.
It is thought as many as 50,000 children in the UK are being exploited within county lines operations. Criminals involved in these gangs can take over every aspect of their vulnerable victim’s lives, initially promising gifts and money then issuing threats if they try to extricate themselves.
In the episode, Juliet and Sid set off for a weekend away at the seaside, but it’s a cover story for their first inter-county drug delivery. Dragging along oblivious pals Ollie Morgan and Imran Maalik in the hope they don’t arouse suspicion, Sid and Juliet are wracked with nerves armed with their illegal substances and burner phone as they sneak off to a dingy ‘trap house’ to do the deal – only for Ms Nightingale’s notorious cocky streak to get them in hot water…
“Juliet and Sid have to deliver the drugs and in return receive some money to take back to Jordan,” explains Blackshaw. “But Juliet lands herself in a situation with another girl in the trap house, Sasha. Her actions put her in a position where she can be further blackmailed by Jordan.”
Cocky Juliet antagonises Sasha by stealing her burner phone as a prank. However, she later tracks her and Sid down – with reinforcements – and accuses the pair of trying to steal their contacts.
“The game changes for Juliet and Sid after this,” warns Blackshaw. “They see what they’re getting themselves into.”
Meanwhile, Jordan has some explaining to do back in the village when Peri Lomax finds him with drugs. Can the charming villain, who has infiltrated the sleepy, affluent Chester suburb to expand his criminal empire, talk his way out getting discovered?
Hollyoaks has consulted with the Children’s Society as part of their research. “Any child in any community can be vulnerable to exploitation so it is fantastic that Hollyoaks is tackling this serious issue,” says Mark Russell, chief executive of the organisation.
“We wanted to help writers raise awareness of the signs of grooming among viewers including children, families, professionals and the public. We hope it will improve their understanding of county lines and ultimately help ensure fewer long people suffer the terrifying reality of exploitation.”