GANGS US­ING ‘EASY’ TAR­GET AUTIS­TIC KIDS

Tricked into join­ing drugs trade

Daily Star - - NEWS - ■ by BERNY TORRE [email protected]­lystar.co.uk

COUNTY lines gangs are ex­ploit­ing autis­tic chil­dren’s “de­sire to be liked and ac­cepted” to get them to sell drugs, ex­perts have warned.

Vi­o­lent crim­i­nals find vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren to groom into be­com­ing drug mules be­tween towns, ci­ties and the coun­try­side.

Hannah Hay­ward, aca­demic ex­pert at St Giles Trust Char­ity, which helps peo­ple with autism in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, said: “Many gang mem­bers ma­nip­u­late the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of young autis­tic peo­ple who want to be liked, in­cluded and ac­cepted within a so­cial group.

“The gangs use tac­tics such as of­fer­ing gifts, or sig­nal that they want this in­di­vid­ual to meet up by invit­ing them to so­cial gath­er­ings so they feel they are be­ing let into their in­ner cir­cle.”

Youth worker Paul Mcken­zie has worked with about 20 young­sters with autism or spe­cial needs who he says have been forced to sell drugs over the past two years.

He added: “A lot of them have been like square pegs in round holes all their lives be­cause no one has ever made them feel they be­long.

“The gang knows how autism works. By giv­ing him that re­spon­si­bil­ity, they’re prey­ing on the fact that he works with pat­terns and rep­e­ti­tion very well.”

WE al­ready knew that the bosses of County Lines drug gangs are de­spi­ca­ble peo­ple.

The prac­tice is one of the ma­jor causes of knife crime on our streets.

And the easy avail­abil­ity of Class A drugs such as co­caine has led to more ad­dicts and deaths than ever be­fore.

But if you thought these gangs couldn’t sink any lower, then think again.

Now in a cruel twist, they are us­ing kids with autism and ex­ploit­ing their “de­sire to be liked and ac­cepted”.

There is noth­ing these crim­i­nals won’t do to keep their em­pire alive and line their pock­ets.

The only way to stop this is to cut off their source and to stop buy­ing their drugs. Gangs would dis­ap­pear al­most overnight if they had no cus­tomers.

The mid­dle class users who think drugs are a bit of fun at the week­end need to recog­nise this.

And think of the other con­se­quences to their habit.

BIG THREAT: Gang mem­ber

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