Vul­ner­a­ble young­sters are tar­geted by gangs

Middleton Guardian - - CHILDREN IN DANGER - BETH ABBIT

MISS­ING chil­dren are be­ing drawn into crime by ur­ban gang­sters.

Ex­perts be­lieve crim­i­nals in Greater Manch­ester are grooming the vul­ner­a­ble young­sters to run drugs and com­mit crime.

Chil­dren as young as eleven have been fer­ried from in­ner city parts of Manch­ester to Black­pool and Bar­row to sell drugs.

In some cases they are asked to set fires, com­mit vi­o­lent of­fences, store firearms, hold money or carry out crim­i­nal dam­age on be­half of their cor­rupt bosses.

Vic­tims and their fam­i­lies then be­come trapped in a spi­ral of debt and in­tim­i­da­tion from which they are un­able to break free.

Greater Manch­ester Po­lice have launched its ‘Trapped’ cam­paign to ed­u­cate fam­i­lies about the dan­gers of cross bor­der crime.

Chief Su­per­in­ten­dent Mary Doyle, of GMP’s se­ri­ous crime di­vi­sion, said of­fend­ers use in­tim­i­da­tion to ex­ploit and con­trol chil­dren and vul­ner­a­ble adults.

“Those be­ing sub­jected to these hideous crimes are vic­tims, not crim­i­nals, and I want to re­as­sure any­body who feels trapped that there is a way out and we will lis­ten to what you have to say,” she said.

Stock­port MP Ann Cof­fey, who chairs the All Party Par­lia­men­tary Group on Run­away and Miss­ing Chil­dren and Adults, said chil­dren are be­ing used by gangs who make mil­lions sell­ing drugs.

“These crim­i­nal cow­ards hide be­hind chil­dren and get them to do their dirty work,” she said.

The num­ber of miss­ing chil­dren in Greater Manch­ester rose from 13,673 to 16,457 in the last 12 months, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est fig­ures from the Na­tional Crime Agency, pub­lished in March.

It is im­pos­si­ble to say how many were drawn into crime but po­lice say the tac­tic is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in Greater Manch­ester.

One po­lice source said that teenagers are of­ten taken to Black­pool and Bar­row where they are given a batch of drugs to sell.

Deal­ers then steal their own stash from the ‘naive’ young­sters to trap them in a spi­ral of debt.

“A lad we found in Black­pool yes­ter­day was so re­lieved to be locked up,” one of­fi­cer re­vealed.

“His face was green be­cause he had been beaten so badly.

“Gangs will take them up to Black­pool and Cum­bria, rob them of the drugs they asked them to sell and say ‘you owe me £4,000, you’re work­ing for free now’.

“But when we get to the kids they are too scared to talk, or they think the deal­ers are their friends.”

One mid­dle class mum re­vealed how her 14-yearold son was ex­ploited by a gang to sell class A drugs.

“I didn’t know what to do or who to call,” she said.

Many of the chil­dren tar­geted come from vul­ner­a­ble fam­i­lies which are seen as easy tar­gets by cal­cu­lat­ing gang­sters.

Bul­lied kids look­ing for pro­tec­tion, young peo­ple in care, or those with a dif­fi­cult home life are of­ten sin­gled out.

But chil­dren from mid­dle class fam­i­lies are also at risk of be­ing drawn in, co­erced and ex­ploited by crim­i­nal gangs.

They may be ini­tially ap­proached by friends who have been groomed, mak­ing it harder for them to spot the risks.

Some have been traf­ficked from over­seas and en­listed into drug deal­ing by cruel gan­glo­rds.

Others are traf­ficked closer to home, lured in by gang­sters on the promise of cash, ex­pen­sive train­ers and track­suits.

Chil­dren have been used as ‘gofers’ and dogs­bod­ies by crim­i­nals for decades.

In one shock­ing case over a decade ago, a young teenager was traf­ficked from Viet­nam and brought to a grotty flat in Swin­ton.

Here, the 14-year-old was or­dered to cul­ti­vate and main­tain a huge cannabis farm.

Gang­sters con­trol­ling the child brought him take­away food and DVDs so he did not have to leave the premises.

When the cannabis op­er­a­tion was fi­nally dis­cov­ered by po­lice, the boy was taken into the care of Sal­ford so­cial ser­vices and placed in a chil­dren’s home.

But his fate had been sealed and the crooks waited for him out­side the chil­dren’s home and smug­gled him into a car.

Of­fi­cers be­lieve he was taken to Sh­effield but were un­able to trace him.

In another case, a teenage gang mem­ber of the feared Pit Bull gang was mur­dered af­ter mak­ing a fa­tal er­ror.

The killing of 16-year-old Thomas Ram­say in 2002 even­tu­ally led to the crew’s fear­some leader, Tommy Pitt be­ing locked up.

Ram­say was or­dered by his gang boss to move a gun which was hid­den in a flat in Longsight, but he for­got.

When po­lice later searched the flat, they found the gun with Pitt’s DNA - ev­i­dence that would later in­crim­i­nate him.

Ram­say was shot twice in the neck and the gun was found in Pitt’s flat along with an ar­se­nal of firearms.

Ex­perts have warned that vul­ner­a­ble young peo­ple at se­ri­ous risk of ex­ploita­tion are be­ing failed by au­thor­i­ties who don’t recog­nise them as vic­tims.

Like the early vic­tims of child sex­ual ex­ploita­tion in Rochdale, the young drug run­ners are per­ceived as “mak­ing a life­style choice” - the All Party Par­lia­men­tary Group (APPG) on Run­away and Miss­ing Chil­dren and Adults has warned.

It pub­lished a re­port in July which stated that the risks to chil­dren tar­geted by gangs are not be­ing recog­nised by pro­fes­sion­als.

“Wor­ry­ingly, vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren and young peo­ple who are traf­ficked and ex­ploited by gangs to dis­trib­ute drugs are still too of­ten per­ceived to have ‘made a choice’ and are there­fore crim­i­nalised rather than safe­guarded and recog­nised as vic­tims of the gangs who con­trol them,” it states.

The re­port adds: “Pat­terns of grooming of chil­dren for crim­i­nal ex­ploita­tion are very sim­i­lar to those of sex­ual ex­ploita­tion.

“In the past, child sex­ual ex­ploita­tion was of­ten per­ceived among pro­fes­sion­als as the vic­tim’s fault, or due to their risky be­hav­iour. We be­lieve that in some ar­eas of the UK a sim­i­lar cul­ture cur­rently ex­ists around crim­i­nal ex­ploita­tion by gangs.”

The APPG say the so­lu­tion lies in ed­u­ca­tion and rec­om­mend that lessons about the risks should be in­cluded on the Na­tional Cur­ricu­lum.

Mem­bers also called for a new na­tional database for miss­ing peo­ple and for Child Ab­duc­tion Warn­ing No­tices - typ­i­cally used in sex­ual ex­ploita­tion cases - to be used against those sus­pected of grooming chil­dren for crime.

Ms Cof­fey called for schools, par­ents and po­lice to work to­gether to raise aware­ness of this ‘gross ex­ploita­tion’ and pre­vent more lives be­ing ru­ined.

She added: “As the gangs ex­pand into new mar­kets more and more chil­dren are be­ing drawn into this fright­en­ing life, which of­ten ends in drug ad­dic­tion, debt and bru­tal vi­o­lence.”

Deputy Mayor for Polic­ing and Crime, Baroness Bev­er­ley Hughes, de­scribed this kind of crim­i­nal­ity as ‘vile and un­for­giv­able’.

She added: “That many of those ex­ploited are vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren is es­pe­cially ab­hor­rent, and we will do all we can to pre­vent chil­dren and young peo­ple fall­ing prey to these crim­i­nals.

“Whether a young per­son or an adult, help is avail­able, and the po­lice and other part­ner agen­cies are work­ing to­gether to sup­port vic­tims and bring those re­spon­si­ble to jus­tice.”

Youth work­ers say child ex­ploita­tion dam­ages the life chances of a ‘sig­nif­i­cant num­ber’ of young peo­ple across the re­gion.

Richard Marsh is chief ex­ec­u­tive of The Fac­tory Youth Zone, in Harpurhey, which pro­vides a safe place for young peo­ple aged 8-19.

He said: “We want to share our ex­pe­ri­ence and to dis­cuss the im­pact this is­sue has on young peo­ple, we want to look to so­lu­tions that mean young peo­ple can grow up with­out be­ing sub­jected to ex­ploita­tion.”

HOW to tell if a young or vul­ner­a­ble per­son is be­ing groomed for crime THEY go miss­ing and travel to sea­side or mar­ket towns AB­SENCE from school or a de­cline in school per­for­mance UN­ABLE to ac­count for money, clothes or ac­ces­sories THEY re­ceive an ex­ces­sive amount of texts and phone calls FOUND to carry weapons SELF-HARM or sig­nif­i­cant changes in emo­tional well­be­ing THEY have de­vel­oped re­la­tion­ships with con­trol­ling older in­di­vid­u­als or groups

Any­one with con­cerns should con­tact GMP on 101, 999 in an emer­gency or Crimestop­pers, anony­mously, on 0800 555 111. For more in­for­ma­tion about the ‘Trapped’ cam­paign visit: www.it­sno­tokay. co.uk/trapped

Young peo­ple are be­ing drawn into crime, say GMP

Chief Su­per­in­ten­dent Mary Doyle

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