South Tyneside councillors welcome work to tackle 'evil' County Lines drugs trade
It is estimated that thousands of children across Britain could have been forced to transport and store drugs and cash after being drawn into the organised criminal networks.
The illicit practice is often carried out using dedicated mobile phone lines or other forms of ‘deal line.’
In many cases, children and vulnerable adults become trapped due to threats, violence or debt bondage and can find themselves caught up in dangerous gang disputes over territory.
Gangs have also been known to target children under 10, referred to as 'clean skins,' as under English Law they are below the age of criminal responsibility and can't be prosecuted.
Earlier this week, South Tyneside Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Coordinating and Call-in (OSCC) Committee received a presentation on the practice.
According to a report prepared for borough councillors, gangs changed their tactics during Covid-19 by shifting to social media as children’s education moved online during the pandemic.
A range of multi-agency groups are working locally and regionally to gather intelligence and provide training to frontline workers to help keep those at risk of exploitation safe.
While safeguarding bosses say there is no hard evidence of the County Lines drugs trade in South Tyneside, they urged the public and councillors to remain vigilant.
"In South Tyneside at this moment in time we have no hard evidence of criminal gang activity," said Jackie Nolan, business manager for South Tyneside Safeguarding Children and Adults Partnership.
“That’s not to say it isn't here and it would be really naive of us to think in South Tyneside we haven’t got any impact - nor should we be complacent in terms of how exploitation is targeted.
“It doesn’t discriminate, it will target the most vulnerable, it will target the most affluent because what criminal gangs will do is target a weak spot.
“It could be a vulnerable adult going through a breakdown, it could be a vulnerable adult placed in independent accommodation for the first time and it could just be children messing about online.”
Existing safeguarding work in the borough includes a Missing, Slavery, Exploitation and Trafficked Multi-Agency Subgroup, which is linked to the South Tyneside Safeguarding Children and Adults Partnership.
The group is responsible for ensuring the effectiveness of multi-agency working alongside providing learning and advice to support workers responsible for young people at medium or high risk.
Northumbria Police is also rolling out ‘exploitation hubs’ to share intelligence about cross-border cases alongside extra training to help multi-agency staff to 'spot the signs' of County Lines.
At this week's scrutiny meeting at South Shields Town Hall, several councillors stressed the importance of preventative work in schools and up-to-date training for those working with vulnerable young people.
However, concerns were also raised about drug problems in parts of the borough.
Councillor Ian Forster, a former police officer, said drugs issues should be brought up with the police and that “where you have got drugs, you have got organised criminals.”
He added it was important to question Northumbria Police further to get a clearer picture of organised crime and its links to South Tyneside.
Councillor Rob Dix, who chairs the OSCC Committee, said the committee update on County Lines was needed due to its prevalence elsewhere in England.
Cllr Dix went on to say: "As members will be aware I think myself as chair and I'm sure everyone else as well thinks it's a very serious issue.
“It’s becoming rampant down the Midlands and the South and I feel as though we should try and keep abreast of what is going on with this evil that is spreading around the country.”
If you have any concerns about criminal activity, contact the police on 999 in an emergency, 101 in a non-emergency or report anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Information on County Lines can also be found on South Tyneside Council's website.
For more, visit: www.southtyneside.gov.uk/article/66479/Criminal-exploitation-of-children-and-vulnerable-adults
Information on County Lines can also be found at www.southtyneside.gov.uk/article/66479/Criminal-exploitation-of-children-and-vulnerable-adults