Parents warned as drug gangs try and recruit children for county lines over school holidays
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Drug gangs operating in Cleveland and further afield will use the school holidays to recruit children to work for them in the criminal world, say detectives.
Parents are being warned about the signs to look out for as organised crime groups target vulnerable people to become part of ‘county lines’ gangs.
County lines is the name given to drug dealing where groups use phone lines to move and supply drugs, often from cities to smaller towns and rural areas.
Cleveland Police has investigated cases where children as young as 13 have been groomed and exploited by gangs for county lines.
There are several signs to look out for that may indicate someone is involved in county lines:
- A child or young person regularly going missing from school or home, and being found in other areas.
- Unexplained money, new clothes or electronic devices that can’t be accounted for
- Receiving high numbers of texts or phone calls, and being secretive about who they’re speaking to
- Relationships with controlling or older individuals or associations with gangs
- Significant changes in emotional or physical wellbeing
- Suspicion of self-harm, physical assault or unexplained injuries
Gangs will try and target young people online, over social media on apps such as Snapchat, Facebook, or Instagram. Videos on websites such as You Tube and Tik Tok can glamorise criminal and gang life. Parents are being urged to set-up parental controls and talk to their children about online safety.
Detective Inspector Dave Glass from the Cleveland Police Complex Exploitation Team said: “These criminals will be relentless in their pursuit of vulnerable children, and what can seem like a dreamy existence to a young child, is actually a terrible nightmare that can impact their life forever.
“There are key signs that parents and carers need to be aware of, which can appear when a child has been groomed or exploited by drug gangs. The school holidays, when children or young people are most likely to be out of the house, or on their electronic devices more, runs an increase risk in them being targeted.
“We want people to call us with their concerns, as the children often won’t see themselves as victims and it’s important that we give them a voice and bring perpetrators to justice.”
Anyone with concerns can call Cleveland Police on the non-emergency number 101, they can report online at www.cleveland.police.uk or through Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. In an emergency, people should call 999. Online safety advice is available on the NPCC website at https://www.nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/online-safety/