Children as young as 12 are supplying your Christmas party drugs
This Christmas Essex residents are being urged to think about the supply chain behind recreational drugs, and consider the violence, intimidation and exploitation of vulnerable children that goes hand in hand with the movement of drugs around the County.
In order to get drugs, including ‘party drugs’, to those who take them, a supply chain of violence, grooming and modern slavery is established. Local children are being targeted right now, purely to move drugs and money through Essex, up and down to London and beyond, in County Lines.
County Lines is the name given to drug dealing where organised criminal gangs move drugs across the country. They exploit vulnerable people, particularly children, by recruiting them to distribute the drugs, often referred to as ‘drug running’. They are forced to carry drugs between locations, usually on trains or coaches. Sometimes made to swallow or hide drugs inside their bodies so not to be detected. They are also forced to sell drugs to local users.
Last December, Southend on Sea Borough Council created #MerryMuletide a hard-hitting social media campaign that educated party going residents about the back story behind their illegal drugs. This year, the Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit, Essex County Council and Thurrock Council are joining with Southend and Essex Police to bring #MerryMuletide to the whole county and educate the public about the young people behind “just that one pill” or “one line of coke won’t hurt.”
While some young people are more at risk of being groomed than others, any young person could be at risk of being targeted by County Line Drug gangs. Children as young as 12 years old are recruited, often using social media, often enticed into the gang lifestyle with drugs, alcohol, money and the promise of friendship or a relationship.
People exploited in this way will quite often be exposed to physical, mental and sexual abuse, they may not recognise themselves as victims, they don’t see that they have been groomed by older gang members to take part in criminal activity.
County Lines are run by gangs and a result there is a strong link between County Lines and violence with these children caught up in the middle of rival gang wars. It is a dangerous abusive and exploitative world.
Roger Hirst, Essex Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner speaking for the Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit said: “It’s important to realise County Lines doesn’t just happen in big cities. This is happening right across Essex, from Basildon to Braintree, Saffron Walden to Southend, Tendring to Thurrock – large towns to small villages. The children involved come from a variety of backgrounds and places in the County. They could be your neighbour, a friend’s son or daughter, or someone you see while walking around your hometown.”
Essex County Councillor Louise McKinlay, Cabinet Member for Children and Families said: “We are asking people to understand where drugs come from, the dangers of the supply chain and to subsequently think twice if they are tempted to buy or take recreational or “party” drugs, this Christmas or beyond. Recreational drug use can have catastrophic consequences on the lives of local children, whose vulnerability will be exploited in a way that can have devastating consequences.”
Assistant Chief Constable Andy Prophet said: “Every single drug bought, including so called recreational drugs, can have a devasting human cost. The criminals running drugs gangs don’t care about anyone but themselves. They manipulate and exploit vulnerable people, including young children, drawing them into a world of violence from which they can feel there is no escape. Every day Essex Police is targeting the criminals running drugs gangs, locking them up, and keeping our communities safe. But we also need the public’s help to do this. Tell us if you are concerned someone you know is being exploited, or if you have information about drug dealing in your neighbourhood.”
Councillor Martin Terry, Cabinet Member for Community Safety & Customer Contact at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council said: “Many people believe a little dabble in party drugs is harmless, but this is not the case at all. Aside from the dangers of taking drugs, in doing so you are directly contributing to our local children being exploited by criminal gangs. You are enabling a system where children are groomed and forced into a violent world that is incredibly hard to leave. This is only happening because people are buying these drugs. If you don’t buy, our children will be protected. This Christmas we are asking you to reconsider your choices, and to help us stop these criminals targeting our children.”
Cllr Rob Gledhill, Leader of Thurrock Council and Cabinet Member for Public Protection and Anti-Social Behaviour, said: “We must all be vigilant when it comes to the devastating impact that County Lines has on our young children across Thurrock and neighbouring boroughs. We will not tolerate organised criminal gangs exploiting our children to take part in dangerous illegal activity which could put them at risk of physical, mental and sexual abuse.
“We all need to take responsibility to help tackle this issue and support our young people. I’m pleased that Essex, Southend and Thurrock councils have joined forces with Essex Police to educate our residents about County Lines.”
The Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit is a partnership that carries out joint operations, interventions, awareness and education programmes to support young people who are being, or at risk of being, exploited and involved in crime. As a result, there is some great joint work happening across Southend, Essex and Thurrock to tackle County Lines and child criminal exploitation including positive activities and programmes for young people, health interventions, and education and awareness resources and campaigns.
For more information on County Lines visit https://www.essex.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/cl/county-lines/
If you think a child is in immediate danger, please phone 999.