£7bn child drug mules
Gangs groom more than 10,000 kids to be runners Children as young as 11 lured into evil network
MORE than 10,000 children could be working as drug mules after being groomed, exploited and trafficked round the UK by violent criminal gangs.
Youngsters as young as 11 are being ensnared by so-called “County Lines” barons in cities such as London, Liverpool and Manchester for an illicit industry worth up to £7billion a year.
A reformed drug boss said the scale of the crisis was being hugely underestimated and warned: “Britain needs to wake up to this. A generation of kids are at risk.”
The children are lured in by promises of easy cash and told they are “going country” – sent far across council boundaries to sell drugs in sleepy rural areas and coastal towns.
They infiltrate the homes of addicts and vulnerable adults, a process known as “cuckooing”, from where they market their wares.
Any who fail to perform by bringing in enough business face savage beatings and being threatened with guns.
Meanwhile their bosses back in the cities run thousands of dedicated phone lines for punters in far-flung counties to ring in orders.
Previously peaceful areas such as Somerset, Devon and Norfolk are seeing huge rises in knife and gun crime as rival gangs from outside move in and fight for trade.
Now experts from charities, politicians and parents are united in demanding a national task force to tackle the problem.
The ex-drug boss said: “County Lines operate in every single part of the UK – it is a massive industry.
“Police and authorities seem blind to the real scale of the problem and the billions criminals make by using kids as slaves.”
National Crime Agency statistics reveal 80 per cent of police forces are dealing with County Lines drug gangs, which have been operating under the radar for at least a decade.
In Merseyside alone, 83 organised gangs are said to be dealing drugs across county borders with runners in North Wales and Cheshire.
And while cops estimate there are 1,000 phone lines currently operating, the former gang boss told us there are actually five times that number. Each one can rake in £4,000 a day, a total of almost £1.5million a year.
Our source added: “People will say it only happens to ‘problem children’ from broken homes in deprived areas who’ve already gone off the rails. But it’s happening to nice middle-class kids too.
“Gangs prey on any insecurity – alienating kids from parents and brainwashing them that this is their new family.
“And on social media they see pictures of kids their own age with Rolex watches and designer clothes, sitting in baths full of £50 notes – the easy money they can make. But it ain’t easy. Because once you’re in, you’re trapped. If kids aren’t selling or lose any of the drugs they face a beating.
“So they blame someone else and take retribution with blades or guns.”
Our source told how boys and girls from all social backgrounds are recruited with offers of easy money and tribal loyalty.
They are then made to “go country”, which is also referred to as being sent “in the woods” or “OT”, meaning out there. Each is supplied with “G-bags” of “food” – £1,000 packages of crack cocaine and heroin. They are taught “plugging”, the technique of hiding drugs in body cavities.
Once at their destination they set up bases with known users, either by offering them free drugs or terrorising them with weapons. The mules then divide their stashes into smaller wraps to sell on for double the price as directed on untraceable “burner phones” by the Mr Bigs in the cities.
A court heard recently that one County Lines dealer took 60,000 calls in six months on one mobile. The gangs have become so brazen they even post fliers through users’ letterboxes advertising two-for-one deals and targeting new customers outside job centres or betting shops.
Our source showed us one of the mobile numbers he used to operate – picked because it was easy to remember with repeated digits. He said: “I was making £4,000 a day and paying the kids working for me £400 a
They see pics of kids their own age with Rolexes, sat in bathtubs full of £50 notes EX-DRUG BOSS ON HOW CHILDREN ARE LURED IN
week. They are known as ‘clean skins’ because they have no police record and rarely attract attention.
“Once they’d sold all their ‘food’ I’d send a new group up to replace them or I’d give a girl a pack to plug, drive her to the bus station and see her off.
“People are running three or four lines at a time and there are at least 5,000 going now. Some will tell you that it’s our unjust, unequal society that grooms and exploits kids – but that is b ******* . They only care about the money.”
Campaigners want to raise awareness of the scandal, which has also been highlighted in a BBC documentary, so mules can be referred for help like victims of child sexual exploitation are. Some police forces have now set up dedicated units but this is so fragmentary that a multiagency national response is required.
This week the Government awarded £280,000 to projects helping children and vulnerable adults escape violent gangs while Home Secretary Amber Rudd has introduced laws to shut down County Lines phone numbers. But Stockport MP Ann Coffey, who chairs the All-Party Group for Runaway and Missing Children, said this was just “a drop in the ocean”.
She said: “We need a national strategy where communities, children’s services, schools, parents and agencies work closer together with the police to raise awareness of this gross exploitation which is ruining children’s lives.
“These criminal cowards hide behind children and get them to do their dirty work for them.
“Criminal child exploitation is the new grooming scandal and is exactly the same as child sexual exploitation in places like Rotherham and Rochdale.”
DOING A LINE Mobiles are key to gangs’ trade BIG BUSINESS Dealer prepares drugs for sale
COUNTY THREAT How teens deal ‘food’ for drug barons Number of drug phone lines gangs are thought to be running in the UK How much gang leaders pay youngsters a week to deal their drugs