Police warn drug-dealing County Lines gangs are recruiting Northamptonshire kids using cannabis-laced sweets
Organised operations target 'clean skin' couriers likely to go under the radar
Police fear sweets loaded with cannabis found in Northamptonshire are being used to recruit kids into drugs gangs by County Lines dealers.
This newspaper revealed earlier this month how sweets were seized from an address in Kettering after four youngsters in Surrey became sick after eating them.
Now regional Special Operations Unit officers say they have connected "cannabis edibles" containing potent levels of THC to organised gangs.
East Midlands SOU’s Stuart Jones "We fear children are not only being targeted as a new market, but are also being enticed with seemingly legal confectionary as a means of recruiting them into County Lines ranks.
"These ‘clean skin’ couriers and dealers, who have no previous record and due to their age, are more likely to go under the radar.
"These sweets are commonly supplied in packs so the potential for accidental over-dose is highly likely, particularly in young people unaware of the dangers.
“We need people to be aware of these products, which we have no doubt are finding their way into parks and possibly even around schools. Make sure your children are aware of the dangers and call us with any concerns.”
County Lines is where illegal drugs are transported between areas usually by children or vulnerable people who are coerced into it by gangs.
The ‘County Line’ is the mobile phone line used to take the orders of drugs.
Young couriers are usually hidden in plain sight. They can be children you know, who are showing signs of changed routines and behaviour; they can be young people you see as you travel on the trains, buses or in taxis. They are at stations, taxi ranks and roadside services, often with older ‘friends’ or alone and appearing unsure of their surroundings.
Police and children's charities launched a #LookCloser campaign last year aimed at raising awareness of how to spot and safeguard victims of County Lines gangs.
James Simmonds-Read, of The Children’s Society, said spotting the signs of exploitation wasn’t just a matter for parents and professionals.
He added: “While lockdown meant exploited children were often hidden from the view of professionals and the public, the easing of restrictions means there are now more opportunities for us all to spot the warning signs.
“Predators have adapted their methods to continue to prey on children during the pandemic - taking advantage of young people’s isolation, worries about family finances and problems at home to groom them with cash, gifts, friendship and status.
“Through our Look Closer campaign we are urging anyone who encounters children in their daily lives — from morning commuters and delivery drivers to hotel and shop staff — to report any concerns that a child might be being exploited to the police.
“Places like train stations, parks, shopping centres, banks and taxis, may all be used in the grooming and exploitation of children. The Internet is also a public space. Be vigilant for signs of exploitation through gaming and social media, as there have been increased reports of online grooming under lockdown.”
Earlier this year, Northamptonshire Police revealed crackdowns on County Lines drugs gangs had resulted in 72 convictions and 221 years of jail time with more than £1million off narcots taken off the streets.
■ #LookCloser and call 101 to report your concerns. On the trains text British Transport Police on 61016. Otherwise, phone Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. In an emergency, always dial 999.