County lines drug gangs exploit middle‑class children of busy working parents

2nd March, 2021 7:42 am

Middle-class youngsters are being groomed to work for county lines drugs gangs that exploit the “emotional neglect” of parents working long hours, according to a report.

The gangs are targeting “children from affluent backgrounds” as well as girls, young women and university students via social media, experts told researchers at Nottingham University.

Dealers have adapted to lockdown measures by posing as delivery drivers and are enrolling at universities for the sole purpose of supplying drugs to students, the interim Policing County Lines: Impact of Covid-19 report found.

County lines refer to the use of a phone link in a city that acts as a call centre managing deliveries in the surrounding counties. Tackling the problem has become a priority for police because of the exploitation of young and vulnerable people.

A police officer told researchers from the university’s Rights Lab department: “Some of the most neglected kids you will find are from very affluent backgrounds because they don’t want for anything financially, but they’re incredibly emotionally neglected.

“You know, if their parents are out of the house working 60-hour weeks, they’re on their own and they lack companionship, they lack positive, older role models and influences.”

The report published today also found evidence that these new groups were being targeted over social media, including Instagram and Snapchat, but that the methods used were still poorly understood and that recruitment by peers remained the dominant factor.

Separately, Scotland Yard announced that an operation against county lines gangs had led to 154 arrests between February 23 and 28. Officers seized 49 knives and other weapons, 27 vehicles and 78 stashes of drugs.

In one case the driver of a car stopped in east London had Class A and B drugs with him and £25,000 plus “three bladed weapons” were found at his home.

Source: The Times

For the report Nottingham academics spoke to experts in the police, social care and youth justice sectors and charities specialising in child exploitation.

Dr Grace Robinson, one of the report’s authors, told The Times: “It must be clear that parents working long hours to support their families are not to blame but these are the spaces and everyday issues that criminal groups see as opportunities for exploitation.”

British Transport Police said that the lack of other passengers on rail networks had led to a decrease in the use of trains by the gangs and an increase in moving drugs by road, particularly with private hire vehicles. This has led to more success in tracking down perpetrators and disrupting supply, it said.

In one undisclosed area of England, police found methods of transport included the use of barges to traffic drugs along waterways, while the use of drones was reported in another area. Researchers found that the gangs had diversified and that there was no one-size-fits-all behaviour.

The increased visibility of users coming and going from properties in the counties during lockdown had led to more so-called day-tripping in which dealers travelled to the target area more frequently, the report found.

In the northwest of England there was intelligence to suggest that some networks were reluctant to travel because of the restrictions and added risks, so requested drug users and commuters travel to them to collect drugs.

Drug prices have increased by up to £10,000 per kilo at wholesale level, the report stated, leading to increasingly impure crack cocaine and heroin at street level.

Dr Ben Brewster, who is leading the research, said: “Despite successes in some areas the pandemic continues to pose challenges for police, who have to adapt to the evolving methods and tactics of county lines dealers.”

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