Drug gang exploitation of vulnerable youngsters - East Sussex hears from London ex-gang member
Police and community partners from across East Sussex are coming together to discuss ways of preventing youth exploitation, especially in relation to local 'county lines' drug dealing stemming from London gangs.
A special one-day conference involving more than 50 people will hear from Junior Smart of the South London-based St Giles Trust.
Attendees include representatives from the police, local authority children's services, and locally based welfare support services and charities.
On his release from prison, Junior set up the SOS Project at St Giles Trust which offers intensive support to young people at risk of or involved in gangs and serious violence.
Gangs, youth exploitation, serious violence and 'county line' drugs criminality are rarely out of the news. Junior Smart will show how child grooming doesn’t just exist in children who are in care or from broken homes. More and more middle class children are being groomed in gangs across the country, including the South East.
His presentation will raise the awareness of professionals who are directly involved in supervising or spending time with children, to be alert to the warning signs and understanding these areas of criminality.
Detective Chief Inspector Steve Rayland of Sussex Police said; "Typical ‘County Lines’ activity involves an organised crime group from a large urban area travelling to smaller locations, such as a county or coastal towns to sell class A drugs in particular cocaine and heroin. The group may challenge an existing group from the local area or another county lines enterprise, which can lead to violence.
"The name ‘County Lines’ is used where an organised crime group establishes and operates a single telephone number for customers ordering drugs, operated from outside the area, which becomes their ‘brand’. Unlike other criminal activities where telephone numbers are changed on a regular basis, these telephone numbers have value so are maintained and protected.
"The groups will sometimes draw vulnerable youngsters, from London or more locally, into their activities, using them as runners to take drugs from one location to another. This exposes them to the risk of violence, gets them involved in other criminality such as sexual exploitation, and cynically introduces them to a criminal lifestyle.
"This form of child exploitation is not yet prevalent in Sussex and today's conference is about helping to prepare police and partners to understand and identify it, so that we can be on the front foot and intervene early on.
"Crime groups may also use a local property, generally belonging to a vulnerable person, sometimes drug users, as a base from which to deal. This is known as 'cuckoooing' and will often happen by force or coercion. In some instances victims have left their homes in fear of violence.
"This is not a new phenomenon and is not confined to Sussex. London affiliated gangs have been seeking to establish drug distribution in Sussex and elsewhere in the South East for several years, although activity has increased in the past two or three years, sometimes involving the use or threat of violence.
"We already work with local partners to safeguard vulnerable adults and children and the most successful safeguarding outcomes have involved multiple agencies, including police, housing authorities, town councils, public health bodies, and charities.
"We are continuing to actively target such drug dealing across Sussex on a forcewide and local level wherever it is identified in order to make the area a hostile environment for dealers and safeguard vulnerable people in our communities."
For advise on ways of identifying and combating child sexual exploitation see the Sussex Police website.