Ben Nelson-Roux: 12 agencies couldn’t stop drug dealers destroying my boy

Posted: 15th March 2023

Source: The Times

Ben Nelson-Roux was only a year out of primary school when a man approached him in a park near his school in Harrogate and offered him drugs.

Four years later, aged 16, he was found dead by his mother in a hostel for the homeless, having been manipulated and exploited by dealers who fed his drug dependency and threatened to harm his family if he did not do their bidding.

The cause of Ben’s death has been the subject of an inquest at North Yorkshire coroner’s court in Northallerton. On Monday the coroner concluded that because a post-mortem examination had not been performed, the medical cause of Ben’s death could not be ascertained, but said it was likely he had died from the misuse of drugs.

For Ben’s family the conclusion has left a number of loose ends, among them the question of how a child from a stable home in an affluent area could end up being forced to sell class-A drugs on the streets.

“My boy, whom we loved and cherished, was a victim of modern slavery,” said Kate Roux, 47, Ben’s mother. “It’s a phrase I cannot say or hear without just being utterly blindsided by how this is our reality. I cannot wrap my head around it.”

Schools and charities have warned in recent years that gangs increasingly recruit middle-class children as drug couriers by getting them addicted and driving them into debt.

The Commission on Young Lives, an independent review of policies to protect vulnerable children, concluded last year that while a decade ago nearly all county lines mules were children in care or with vulnerable parents, many now came from “well-to-do” areas.

Ben, who was a pupil at King James’s School in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, started smoking cannabis at the age of 12. Roux said that Ben later told her that he and his friends had been approached by a man who would loiter in a park near the school.

She said her son had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and struggled at school, which built into him a sense of humiliation and frustration. “What I know now is that drug dealers are very savvy about finding the children that are out of school and that have things like ADHD going on,” Roux, who runs a holistic therapy business, said. “They’re able to pick off the ones that will be the most likely to kind of go down that road.”

When Roux and Ben’s father, Barry Nelson, 57, who works in finance, found out about his drug use they alerted social services, which drew up a child-in-need plan, a multi-agency programme for children with complex needs. Roux said she believed this was one of the first big failings, and that Ben should have been treated as a victim of serious crime and had a child protection plan instead.

As his drug use continued, Ben became more withdrawn from family life. By 2019 he was being arrested for shoplifting and, in November that year, for dealing class-A drugs in York. At that point he was placed on the Home Office register for victims of modern slavery and the charges against him were dropped.

“I can’t say when the actual exploitation started,” Roux said. “But we became aware of it because he was just constantly in a state of panic about drug debts that would always apparently double if they weren’t paid within a day.

“They used the fact that he was so dependent and just created an impossible downward spiral where he would always owe money. But maybe if you run this errand for them, or maybe if he shoplifts to order, he could start to pay them back.” If he did not, “awful threats” were made of violence against his relatives, which created a constant state of fear within the house, Roux said.

“When I asked Ben to tell me who it was that was doing this to him, he would respond, ‘Snitches get stitches.’ That’s what they told him,” she said.

At the start of 2020 Ben left the family home. He refused to enter the care system, so the council placed him in a hostel for homeless adults that was awash with drugs and alcohol. The council said it was “a last resort” to keep him off the streets until it found him a more suitable home. However, he was found dead on his bed on April 8, 2020, by his mother when she arrived to take him to an appointment with a private psychiatrist.

Twelve agencies, including NHS mental health support and the local council, were involved in Ben’s care and unable to stop the downward spiral.

Roux said she felt the child-in-need plan was never “coherent”, with each agency believing that others were seeing to it that Ben was supported.

“Ben had a really loving, supportive family,” she said. “And with the right support we never should have ended up where we did.”

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