Having tackled far right extremism and abuse in the football industry over the last year, Hollyoaks producer Bryan Kirkwood has now revealed more about the soap's big new storyline for 2020 exploring county lines drug dealing and the devastating impact on the lives of young people and their families.
Teen characters including Juliet Quinn (Niamh Blackshaw), Charlie Dean (Charlie Behan), Sid Sumner (Billy Price) and Ella Richardson (Erin Palmer) will be groomed and manipulated into carrying out criminal activity when a dangerous gang infiltrates the community, forcing them into 'county lines' substance trafficking - the term given to drug dealing networks from big cities expanding into small towns in different parts of the country.
As their kids fall deeper into a dangerous world of crime, the grown-ups will have their part to play in the plot as matriarchs Nancy Osborne (Jessica Fox), Leela Lomax (Kirsty-Leigh Porter), Mandy Morgan (Sarah Jayne Dunn) and Marnie Nightingale (Lysette Anthony) fight to protect the vulnerable schoolchildren.
Current statistics from the National Crime Agency reveal exploitation of young people is on the rise and estimates the number of 'deal lines' has more than doubled to around 2,000 in the last 12 months.
"County lines child exploitation is terrifying," says Kirkwood. "Our writing team regularly share stories of their children's schools on lockdown, or weapons being confiscated. It's in the news and in our court systems.
"Hollyoaks has a strong and award-winning formula of how to talk to young people without them feeling lectured - we want them, and their parents, to know the signs and what to do if you think this is happening to you or someone you know."
The soap has announced it is working with national charity the Children's Society as part of their research. The organisation's recent findings into child criminal exploitation found that arrests of 10-17-year-olds for possession with intent to supply Class A drugs increased by 49% across 17 police forces outside London over the last three years.
"Criminals groom children into trafficking drugs with promises of money, friendship and status," comments Children's Society chief executive Mark Russell. "Once they've been drawn in they 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 on this serious issue by bringing it to a fictional suburb of Chester, which is seen as a relatively affluent city. It is important to raise awareness of these very real dangers."
The plot kicks off with the ambitious 'flash forward' episode set on New Year's Eve which gives an ominous glimpse into the future for the teens as they ring in 2020. One year on, viewers will see terrifying ways that their lives have changed for them and their families - the recent winter trailer provided a first look at the narrative device. How the characters reach those crisis points will be played out across 2020 until we reach 31st December of that year.
Hollyoaks have confirmed the hour-long special airs on Friday 27th December on E4, and Monday 30th December on Channel 4.
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