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