Children as young as SEVEN recruited by county lines drug dealers
Children as young as SEVEN are being recruited by county lines drug dealers who get them to steal fruit as an initiation before getting them to push Class As hundreds of miles from home
- Disturbing Children’s Society report warns gangs are targeting young children
- Claims youngster are instructed to ‘act out’ in school so they can be excluded
- Then they can do ‘shift work’ dealing drugs in cities, towns and villages in the UK
- Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, labelled news ‘shocking’
Children as young as seven are being drawn into county lines drug dealing, a shocking report warns today.
Ruthless drug dealers are ‘scouting’ for ‘naughty’ primary school children who are being persuaded to steal fruit as a gang initiation before climbing the ranks and being forced to peddle drugs hundreds of miles from their home.
A disturbing report by the Children’s Society has warned that gangs are ‘casting their net wider’ to target even younger children, picking on those who ‘throw stones at windows’ or are easily led.
Youngsters are being instructed to ‘act out’ in school, such as flouting uniform rules, so they can purposely be excluded from classes to do ‘shift work’ dealing drugs in cities, towns and villages across the UK. The report by the influential charity, which provides services for children at risk of exploitation, warns of the terrifying speed at which young children are being lured in.
A disturbing report by the Children’s Society has warned that gangs are using children to deal drugs in cities, towns and villages across the UK (stock image)
A slick grooming process may start with the children being offered pocket money to watch out for police, before escalating with requests to stash drugs, weapons or money.
Children in pupil referral units (PRU) who have been excluded from mainstream schools are said to be particularly at risk, with one children’s worker dubbing it ‘like a target on your head if you’re a child that attends a PRU’.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: ‘It’s shocking but sadly not surprising that the age of children targeted by gangs is getting ever younger.
‘There are too many children in this country who are left unsupported to lead lives that make them prime targets for the emotional manipulation serious criminality will exploit, backed up by the threat of violence.
‘The age of some of these children illustrates the unpleasant truth that these kids are the least valued, most expendable links in the criminal chain, and are as much victims as anything else.’
Youngsters are being instructed to ‘act out’ in school, such as flouting uniform rules, so they can purposely be excluded from classes to do ‘shift work’ dealing drugs (stock image)
Anne Longfield (right), Children’s Commissioner for England, labelled the report ‘shocking’. While Children’s Society chief executive Nick Roseveare (left) said: ‘This shocking report reveals how cowardly criminals are stooping to new lows in grooming young people to do their dirty work’
It is the first time a major report has uncovered evidence of the county lines phenomenon – which refers to gangs using mobile phones to sell drugs – creeping into primary schools.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) has previously estimated that 10,000 children as young as 11 have been enslaved by county lines gangs. The number of drug dealing operations across the UK has almost tripled from 720 last year to 2,000, with the NCA estimating that teenagers aged 15 to 17 make up the ‘bulk’ of the gangs involved in the £500million industry.
Children ‘more at risk in their rooms’
Online abuse and radicalisation mean children are more at risk in their bedrooms than on the streets, the chief inspector has said.
Sir Thomas Winsor described iPhones and laptops as ‘portals’ providing access to ‘some of the most dangerous people in the world’.
His report said technology ‘intensifies severe threats to the most vulnerable people in society’. He added that the directors of online sites who ‘knowingly tolerate or facilitate [these crimes] should face the loss of their fortunes and their liberty’. The Government is proposing to set up an internet watchdog with the power to impose massive fines, jail executives and block websites from the internet if they breach certain rules.
But critics are concerned the regulations will be far too wide-ranging, give too much power to politicians, and could pave the way for Chinese-style censorship if applied to news websites.
Sir Thomas’s report added: ‘This type of offending is not just about child sexual abuse and fraud, but radicalisation, harassment and stalking too.’
But the Children’s Society said it had found ‘alarming evidence’ that younger children were being enslaved, adding: ‘The professionals we spoke to reported increasing concerns with perpetrators targeting primary school-aged children.
‘There were reports of incidences where perpetrators observe and scout for children perceived as being “naughty” – those children who are already pushing societal expectations and boundaries (e.g. throwing stones through windows) or who are perceived to be easily convinced.’
One deputy head from a Manchester primary school told the charity: ‘There are a couple of children we know of who are ten and younger who have been caught up in this.
‘One boy in Year 6 is often picked up after school by older boys from the area who are about 13 or 14 but we know they are also involved with boys aged about 16 or 17, so you can see there is a web of exploitation where children who are exploited are then made to involve the younger ones.
‘They’re easy targets as they’re seen as sweet and small and because of this they don’t get caught or end up in as much trouble as older children.’
One children’s worker said: ‘We had a case where the young female would go to school not in the correct uniform – so school would send her home without informing the parents and then her exploitation would take place.’
The report warned that both boys and girls are at risk. Nearly one in six children suspected of criminal exploitation referred to the National Referral Mechanism are girls.
Children’s Society chief executive Nick Roseveare said: ‘We have uncovered alarming evidence of targeting starting at primary school age with anecdotal reports of children being exploited as young as seven and eight.
‘This shocking report reveals how cowardly criminals are stooping to new lows in grooming young people to do their dirty work.’
Just two PCs and a sergeant to cover area half the size of London
Just two constables and a sergeant were policing an area of Devon on Friday that would cover half of Greater London, it has been revealed.
Inspector Andrew Berry, the Police Federation chairman for Devon and Cornwall Police, has called for an urgent review into the lack of rural officers after the shortage came to light.
Even on a normal day, he said, there would be only eight constables covering the area – 350 square miles that includes Dartmoor, Okehampton and Tavistock and is home to more than 25,000 people. He said officers now operate on such a ‘shoestring’ they question whether arresting offenders is worth the time that dealing with them will take them out of action.
He added: ‘You almost dare not arrest anybody for the sake there would be nobody out there at all. On a busy evening, officers would be wary of arresting someone for a minor crime in case a more serious one might take place. You might drive them home rather than arrest them for alleged assault.’
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