Judges fu­elling knife gang epi­demic by let­ting drug deal­ers off scot-free

The Mail on Sunday - - News - By Mar­tin Beck­ford HOME AF­FAIRS ED­I­TOR

SOFT sen­tences handed down by judges to drug deal­ers and vi­o­lent crim­i­nals are driv­ing the gang vi­o­lence grip­ping Bri­tain.

A damn­ing Gov­ern­ment-funded re­port tells how young push­ers and knife-wield­ing thugs are be­ing let off with a ‘slap on the wrist’, send­ing the mes­sage that ‘the con­se­quences of drug- deali ng and vi­o­lence are min­i­mal’.

In a shock­ing ex­posé of Wild West Bri­tain, the study also shows how:

Ruth­less gang bosses are now turn­ing to mid­dle-class chil­dren to sell drugs for them;

They keep tabs on their foot sol­diers us­ing mo­bile phone track­ing apps;

Deal­ers are of­fer­ing ‘ two- forone’ deals and ‘prize raf­fles’ to get more peo­ple hooked on heroin and crack co­caine;

Chil­dren are be­ing sold ad­dic­tive anti-anx­i­ety drug Xanax to ‘calm their nerves’ be­fore ex­ams.

Par­ents are urged to search their chil­dren’s bed­rooms for knives.

The find­ings have been sent to MPs by the Vi­o­lence And Vul­ner­a­bil­ity Unit, set up to tackle the grow­ing prob­lem of ‘County Lines’ gangs who send young peo­ple to sell drugs in provin­cial towns.

The re­port has been sub­mit­ted to the Home Af­fairs Select Com­mit­tee’s in­quiry into se­ri­ous vi­o­lence, launched last year as fears grew of a Wild West Bri­tain where stab­bings, mug­gings and mur­ders be­came com­mon­place across towns and cities.

There were 134 homi­cides in Lon­don alone dur­ing 2018, mak­ing it the blood­i­est year for a decade, and there have been an­other five vic­tims since New Year, in­clud­ing 14-year-old Jay­den Moodie.

Last night, for­mer Chil­dren’s Min­is­ter Tim Loughton, who sits on the com­mit­tee, said: ‘We need to get se­ri­ous about clamp­ing down on County Lines, which means send­ing out a very clear mes­sage that there will be se­ri­ous penal­ties for those caught up in this hor­ren­dous spi­ral of vi­o­lence.

‘By treat­ing th­ese teenagers as vic­tims, the courts are send­ing out mixed mes­sages.’

The surge in vi­o­lence has been linked to po­lice num­bers fall­ing to their low­est level since 1981 af­ter al­most a decade of bud­get cuts.

And a new pledge by Prisons Min­is­ter Rory Ste­wart to ban prison sen­tences of un­der six months will likely heighten con­cerns over soft sen­tenc­ing.

The re­port makes it plain that Bri­tain is now be­ing plagued by a ‘new type of crim­i­nal­ity’ that links ‘ street gangs, drug deal­ers and or­gan­ised crime groups’ who are run­ning an ‘ex­tremely vi­o­lent’ but ‘very lu­cra­tive’ busi­ness. And it warns there are wide­spread con­cerns about how the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem is han­dling the prob­lem.

Its writ­ten ev­i­dence in­cludes the stark line: ‘When young peo­ple go through the jus­tice sys­tem they only re­ceive a slap on the wrist.’

It says Youth Of­fend­ing Team (YOT) work­ers cite one 15-year-old caught with large quan­ti­ties of Class A drugs – as many as 30 rocks of crack co­caine – who was be­ing pun­ished only for the lesser of­fence of pos­ses­sion rather than sup­ply. The study goes on: ‘Reg­u­lar of­fend­ers are not be­ing given cus­to­dial sen­tences, a prac­tice ex­ac­er­bated by a lack of con­sis­tency in knife crime sen­tenc­ing.

‘This sends a mes­sage to young peo­ple that the con­se­quences of drug deal­ing and vi­o­lence are min­i­mal and acts as an in­cen­tive for older deal­ers to con­tinue to use teenagers of around 14 and 15 years old.’ It warns: ‘In ef­fect, YOT work­ers have no sanc­tion they can in­voke as a warn­ing for young peo­ple, the lack of which they feel un­der­mines their work.’

And ‘there is a ris­ing tide of anti-

so­cial be­hav­iour which is not be­ing chal­lenged, lead­ing to (very) young peo­ple think­ing they can do what­ever they like with im­punity.’

The key el­e­ment of the new crim­i­nal­ity in­volves prey­ing on vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. Deal­ers find new

mar­kets, then groom chil­dren as young as 14 to act as mules and ‘ en­slave’ them in a life of crime through debt.

They par­tic­u­larly tar­get teenagers who have been ex­pelled from school and sent to Pupil Re­fer­ral Units, which are now be­com­ing ‘the area for gang ri­val­ries’ and a ‘re­cruit­ing arena for crime’.

Gang lead­ers even use apps such as ‘Find My iPhone’ to mon­i­tor the chil­dren work­ing for them.

Oth­ers use young peo­ple to laun­der money through their bank ac­counts.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­searchers, one of the rea­sons for a rise in youth vi­o­lence may be ‘ruth­less and des­per­ate’ teenagers com­mit­ting rob­beries to pay off their debts.

In this world, ‘car­ry­ing knives and deal­ing drugs is viewed as nor­mal ac­tiv­ity’ with stab­bings seen as a way to send a warn­ing, lead­ing to ‘chil­dren car­ry­ing weapons for pro­tec­tion’.

The vi­o­lence is also fu­elled by so­cial me­dia as gangs post mu­sic videos on YouTube to threaten ri­vals.

Af­ter car­ry­ing out hun­dreds of in­ter­views with youth work­ers and drug sup­port groups, the team be­lieve that more and more peo­ple around the UK are now tak­ing crack co­caine and heroin, in­clud­ing women and younger peo­ple.

The drugs gangs are us­ing ‘price wars’ to con­trol their mar­kets, even of­fer­ing ‘two-for-one’ deals and ‘prize raf­fles’ to win new cus­tomers.

And mid­dle- class chil­dren are in­creas­ingly us­ing Xanax ‘to calm nerves be­fore ex­ams’ while the gang mem­bers them­selves take it ‘prior to acts of vi­o­lence’.

In some ar­eas in­clud­ing Brighton, the study says, mid­dle-class chil­dren are tar­geted as the gangs be­come ‘more cre­ative’ in their re­cruit­ment meth­ods.

Ex­perts want the groom­ing of young peo­ple to sell drugs to be made a spe­cific of­fence that ‘in­curs stiff penal­ties’, while there should be more done to tackle older deal­ers driv­ing ex­pen­sive cars who re­cruit teenagers in the street.

Even those who are put be­hind bars are able to carry on ‘op­er­at­ing their lines’ be­cause of the ‘freely avail­able sup­ply of mo­bile phones in­side prison’, and when ri­val gangs are housed in the same jail their feuds only be­come more vi­o­lent. The re­port also warns that so­cial work­ers strug­gle to pro­tect teenagers caught up in ‘debt en­slave­ment and en­trap­ment’ be­cause the sys­tem is de­signed only to pro­tect chil­dren ne­glected or abused by their fam­i­lies.

It says that one YOT worker ‘had to fight for a case of a child who had a gun to be ac­cepted as ne­glect’.

In ad­di­tion, it can be dif­fi­cult to get fam­i­lies to help ‘when money from County Lines ac­tiv­i­ties might be pay­ing house­hold bills’.

The re­port says that in some ar­eas par­ents are be­ing taught ‘how to look for weapons and drugs’ and even telling them ‘how to carry out daily searches’.

Ev­i­dence ob­tained by The Mail on Sun­day backs up the unit’s sus­pi­cion that young drug deal­ers are be­ing spared jail.

A snap­shot of court cases from the past year re­vealed at least 15 ex­am­ples of judges hand­ing out sus­pended sen­tences to teenagers and young adults con­victed of pos­ses­sion with in­tent to sup­ply, which could yield a seven-year jail term.

The num­ber of con­vic­tions for drug of­fences dropped from 82,561 in 2008 to 65,677 last year, ac­cord­ing to Min­istry of Jus­tice data. And for the spe­cific of­fence of pos­ses­sion with in­tent to sup­ply, only 6,947 of t he 13,186 peo­ple con­victed in 2017 re­ceived an im­me­di­ate cus­to­dial sen­tence.

Over­all, the num­ber of chil­dren en­ter­ing the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem has fallen by a stag­ger­ing 85 per cent over the past decade and the num­ber be­ing locked up has dropped by 74 per cent – even as the num­ber com­mit­ting knife crimes has rock­eted.

Last night, Lib­eral Demo­crat Home Af­fairs spokesman Ed Davey said: ‘When young peo­ple are ar­rested in their early teens, the alarm bells should be ring­ing.

‘ If we in­ter­vened to help th­ese young peo­ple on to a dif­fer­ent path, there’s a fight­ing chance we could re­duce crime and un­der­mine th­ese crim­i­nal gangs.’

‘Gang bosses tar­get teens ex­pelled from school’

BRU­TAL: A Changi prison guard demon­strates the force of the pun­ish­ment. In­set: Ye Ming Yuen also faces 20 years in prison for traf­fick­ing

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