‘County lines’ drug dealers target children as young as 12
Council and police chiefs say young teens should be considered victims, not criminals
30 March, 2019 — By Samantha Booth
Labour councillor Abdul Hai
CHILDREN as young as 12 are being sent to other counties from Camden to deal drugs miles away from home as part of the so-called county lines operations.
Labour cabinet councillor Abdul Hai – the council chief overseeing young people in the borough – said the children being groomed into dealing should be treated as victims.
Cllr Hai said: “It’s destroying those young lives. It’s a pathway to criminality, violence and self-destruction. For many of those young children, their lives will never be the same.”
He was speaking as two mothers from Camden who fear their sons have been drawn into drugs operations spoke to the New Journal in an appeal for the issue to be given greater focus, explaining the pain of watching their children targeted by gangs.
In the past 12 months, there have been about 20 incidents recorded by police where young people from Camden have been involved in county lines.
Cllr Hai added: “From my understanding you are looking at children as young as 12 or 13, in some cases, being exploited and sent outside of London. My take is that children who have been groomed and criminalised should not be seen as perpetrators, they have been victims and I will always advocate for them to be supported and seen as victims of their circumstances.”
The National Crime Agency defines county lines as networks from urban areas expanding their drug dealing into smaller town and rural areas, often using young or vulnerable people.
They said dealers will usually use a single phone to facilitate the supply of Class A drugs, and the “line” is protected by violence and intimidation. Cllr Hai said he believed Camden’s good transport links across the country lured the operators to the borough, to either recruit youngsters or drop them off.
A National Crime Agency report published in January believed there were over 2,000 individual deal line numbers in the UK. The greatest number of county lines – 15 per cent – continue to originate from the Met Police area. Exploited children can go missing, sometimes for long periods of time.
Chief Superintendent Raj Kohli, the new borough commander, said at his first address to the community that “if you are drug dealing and under 16, you are a victim of crime. Simple.”
Raj Kohli, Camden’s most senior police officer
Cllr Hai said there should be tougher sentences for those grooming young children. He said these people should “look at themselves in the mirror”.
Of the victims he added: “The fact is from an early age their innocence has been taken away and put onto a path to criminality. “It’s also about the psychological impact that it’s done to those children, they will probably need long-term therapy and support to overcome those experiences.”
A year-long report commissioned by the council in 2017 into the underlying causes in a rise in knife violence found that vulnerable children were being groomed by drug dealers.
Cllr Hai said the council was being “very proactive” in its work around county lines and child exploitation, adding: “We are quite robust in our approach. We also work closely with National Referral Mechanism which identifies victims of human trafficking but also modern-day slavery to make sure young children who have been victims are given the appropriate support. We’ve been working with professionals to develop the understanding and awareness of child criminal exploitation and have an early intervention team working with families.”
The NCA advises young people who want help to contact fearless.org anonymously or call Childline 0800 1111