16th April, 2021 9:09 am
A teenager has told how he was groomed by criminals to sell heroin and crack cocaine after being recruited through a post on Snapchat.
Two years ago, aged 14 and wanting to run away from home, he responded to a message offering cash-in-hand work and accommodation, on the social media app.
Within 80 minutes, a gang collected him and drove him elsewhere to sell drugs.
Kent Police said they were cracking down on gangs but added parents also had an important role to play.
The teenager, who said he spotted the post on another person’s Snapchat story, said: “It was from a simple text to be honest with you… Within an hour and 20 minutes of me texting them, they was [sic] already here.”
The boy, who has asked to remain anonymous, said he was made to hide drugs inside his body.
“Basically if you get pulled over by the police, cos [sic] they can’t strip-search me or anything, obviously where I’m underage, obviously that’s why they got me to hide it.”
He said he sold consignments of drugs to addicts, each batch worth £480, and dealt with five consignments a day.
After a week, his mother found him and rescued him with help from gang intervention charity Refocus.
“When I knew what he was doing, I thought I’m going to get that call that he’s dead, because the amount of nights I searched the streets looking for him, and couldn’t find him,” she said.
Lennox Rodgers, from Refocus and also a former gang member, said he knew what to say and what to do and “was able to show them how to get out”.
County lines gangs use dedicated phone lines to send mass texts to customers and organise networks of couriers, often children and vulnerable adults, to move drugs from cities to smaller towns.
‘Out of control’
Phone lines are branded with a gang’s name, allowing customers to place orders. Dealers remain anonymous to avoid getting caught.
The boy’s mother said: “We still live the trauma, all of us as a family. I’ve had extra locks put on the doors. You’re living a nightmare, even now.
“Even though my son’s safe, I still worry if he goes out….These people are getting away with so much. It’s out of control.”
Snapchat’s guidelines state the app must not be used for illegal activities, and inappropriate content can easily be flagged.
Developers said they continually sought guidance from experts, while providing in-app support for users.
Det Supt Shaun White, from Kent Police, said the force took a zero-tolerance approach to county lines and drug dealing, working in partnership with the Metropolitan Police and British Transport Police.
He said in the past year, the force had arrested over 300 people, leading to more than 350 charges, and had conducted 176 search warrants, resulting in seizures of drugs, cash and weapons.
“We know that county lines teams use social media to groom young people, but as a response to that we work with our safeguarding teams and our partners in our local authority,” he said.
“What I would say to parents is – look at your children’s phones, look who they’re mixing with. When they go to school, who are their new friends they’re interacting with?
“Children have more than one social media account and parents have to get back to old-fashioned parenting and actually challenging their children on where they’re going, who they’re mixing with, and actually asking children for their passwords.”
Source: County lines gang ‘recruited teen in 80 minutes via Snapchat’ – BBC News (April 2021)
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