Revealed: Drug-dealing county lines involving children from Redbridge established in places as far as Wales
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
County lines involving young people from Redbridge have been established to supply drugs as far as Wales, Southampton, Exeter, Bath, Colchester and Ipswich, a report has revealed.
The term county lines refers to drug dealing gangs from big cities expanding their operations to smaller towns, often exploiting children and vulnerable people to sell drugs.
"Pulling young people into involvement with gangs, very frequently associated with both sexual and criminal exploitation and the risk of involvement in violence, is highly exploitative," the annual Redbridge Local Safeguarding Children Board report says.
While it is difficult to quantify the extent of criminal exploitation in the borough, the number of new cases of alleged child sexual exploitation in Redbridge in 2018-19 recorded by the police fell by almost 40per cent, from 77 to 47 cases, the report says.
"The characteristics of the young people concerned in contacts received by social care, and the form of sexual exploitation suspected, were very similar to those seen in previous years - 80pc were girls, mainly aged between 10 and 15, and believed to be at risk of exploitation through inappropriate relationships with an older person or through online exploitation," the report says.
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"However, not all suspected victims fit this picture: six children under 10 were the subject of child sexual exploitation strategy meetings."
Of the suspected perpetrators, the majority were aged between 18 and 25, although there were a number of both older men and under 18s identified.
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Half of the suspected offenders were known or believed to be members of gangs.
"It remains extremely difficult to accurately estimate the extent of child sexual exploitation," the report says.
"It is even more difficult to quantify the extent of the criminal exploitation of young people - there is no accurate figure for the number of young people engaged in county lines, for example."
A Multi Agency Sexual Exploitation Panel has identified several "hot spots" in the borough where young people are at particular potential risk of exploitation, and all these areas have been targeted either for police or community safety enforcement activity.
A significant police operation took place throughout 2018 around Ilford Station, targeting a group of men who were suspected of sexually exploiting young women in exchange for drugs and alcohol.
A number of arrests were made, and seven child abduction warning notices were issued.
In total, the police issued 25 child abduction warning notices in 2018-19, more than three times the number issued in 2017-18, and there were successful prosecutions for breach of the orders in two cases.
The report also highlights a comment made in national media by a former drug user, which the board used in its overview of work to tackle exploitation in the borough.
It said: "There are six or seven dealers in Ilford. They give it to you free to start with. One of the kids that drops the drugs off is no more than 12 years old."
John Goldup, chairman of Redbridge Local Safeguarding Children Board, said: "For adolescents, fear of knife crime is an escalating issue, even if the reality of the statistics does not always support that escalation.
"Sexual exploitation, gang affiliation, exposure to being drawn or coerced into a lucrative and sometimes violent drugs market, involvement in county lines - these are real risks for young people in Redbridge.
"There's clearly a huge amount of good work going on, but there's no room for complacency.
"We still have a lot to do to get to grips with the difficult, dangerous, complex issue of the criminal exploitation of young people."
Looking at the overall picture of children's social care in Redbridge, despite rising demand, there are fewer children on child protection plans, low numbers of children in care, and a reduction in the number of care proceedings brought before the courts.