Vulnerable youngsters are targeted by gangs
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