The issue was recently highlighted by ITV News Tyne Tees and is now being turned to drama with Channel 4.

ITV Tyne Tees recently investigated ‘county lines’ at Newcastle Central Station.

“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.” – Hollyoaks Executive Producer Bryan Kirkwood

Hollyoaks will in 2020 explore the issue of child criminal exploitation through county lines with school-age children and teen characters – working closely with charity The Children’s Society.

The decision for Hollyoaks to tackle this subject comes off the back of the National Crime Agency revealing county lines exploitation is present across all police areas in England and Wales. It estimates that the number of deal lines has more than doubled to around 2,000 in the last year. Hollyoaks’ ambition is to get beyond the headlines, beyond the crime statistics and police reports, and to look at the impact on real families and real children.

‘County lines’ is a term used when drug gangs from big cities expand their operations to smaller towns, exploiting children and vulnerable people. Over the course of a year characters, Juliet (Niamh Blackshaw), Charlie (Charlie Behan), Sid (Billy Price) and Ella (Erin Palmer) will be groomed to carry out criminal activity.

Hollyoaks matriarchs Nancy (Jessica Fox), Leela (Kirsty Leigh Porter), Marnie (Lysette Anthony) and Mandy (Sarah Jayne Dunn) will fight to protect their children as they become embroiled in this dangerous world.

Nancy played by Jessica Fox.

The long-running story will commence in an ambitious New Year hour long ‘flash-forward’ episode to be aired on Friday 27th December E4, Monday 30th December on Channel 4.

Episode scenes will offer glimpses of New Year’s Eve 2020, depicting how much life has changed in a year for the young teens of Hollyoaks village and their families. As the clock chimes towards midnight, flashes to scenes 12 months on, will include a knife being dropped into an evidence bag.

The Children’s Society are a national charity that works with some of the country’s most vulnerable children and young people, including those at risk of or affected by child criminal exploitation. Production company Lime Pictures’ writing and research teams have consulted The Children’s Society throughout the creative process and will continue to consult the charity’s experts throughout the scripting and production process.

While advising on relevant storylines they have also attended sessions with cast members and their families to ensure the storyline is explained sensitively and, in a way that younger cast members feel comfortable with. Hollyoaks Executive Producer Bryan Kirkwood confirmed that raising awareness of the dangers of carrying knives would be amongst key messages to come from the show over the next year.

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

Hollyoaks airs weeknights at 6.30pm on Channel 4, with first look screenings at 7pm on E4.

Hollyoaks Executive Producer Bryan Kirkwood.

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