Warning on the signs of county lines drugs gangs exploiting children

Safeguarding bosses in South Tyneside have urged the public to spot the potential signs of drug gangs exploiting children.
File picture from PAFile picture from PA
File picture from PA

It is estimated as many as 46,000 children across the country could have been forced to take part in the so-called ‘county lines’ drug trade.

This includes gangs targeting vulnerable people to transport drugs, cash and even weapons with reports of children as young as seven being involved.

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Although there is no evidence of the practice in South Tyneside, safeguarding bosses have warned the public to remain vigilant.

Safeguarding manager at South Tyneside Council, Jackie Nolan, said the crime can often snare youngsters in a “spiral of exploitation.”

“If you speak to young people who have been involved, they initially won’t see themselves as victims,” she said.

“One of the tricks that the perpetrators use is asking young people if they would like to earn some money.

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“The sum that’s currently going around is £350 in this area of the country.

“Young people will be asked to take a parcel to a location and initially it goes well, money is handed over and then an offer could be made to double the money.

“The children are never informed of what they’re carrying and the money is doubled but this time it’s quite a sinister trick.

“Perpetrators already have another gang set up to jump these young people and take whatever they’re carrying and the money.

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“The young person then goes back to the perpetrator, who has set this up, and they say you have a debt to repay and the only way you can do it is to continue in this line of work.”

The comments came during a meeting of South Tyneside’s East Shields and Whitburn Community Area Forum on Thursday (October 10).

Councillors heard that county lines gangs often use violence and intimidation to keep victims in line with the majority aged between 12-17.

Although the practice is concentrated in the London area, National Crime Agency data shows it is spreading into the North East.

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Jackie Nolan, business manager for the borough’s safeguarding children partnership/adults board, said the public have a part to play in spotting the warning signs.

These include children persistently going missing, significant changes in emotional well-being or behaviour, relationships with older, controlling individuals and unexplained injuries.

Other dangers include county lines gangs using social media, and sometimes other children, to find new recruits.

Councillors were also warned to look out for the exploitation of vulnerable adults in a process called ‘cuckooing’.

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This includes abusers conducting drug dealing, handling stolen goods or other criminal activity in a property through force or coercion.

South Tyneside Council are currently raising awareness of the issue with young people and local businesses around the borough.

This work also includes close links with the police and safeguarding training for taxi drivers.

Acting chairman of the committee, Coun Rob Dix, said he was concerned about the rise of the county lines drug trade.

“It’s good to see we have woken up to the issue,” he added.

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“As far as we’re aware, it hasn’t come to our patch yet but I’m sure we will be prepared.”

To share concerns, contact the police on 101 or email [email protected]

For concerns about adults, call the council’s ‘Let’s Talk Team’ on 01914246000 or the out of hours team on 01914562093.

Information around County lines can also be provided anonymously to www.fearless.org/en