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Drug dealing ‘threatens an entire generation of young people’

Westminster Council leader warns of the risks to children caught up in ‘county lines’ crack and heroin trade networks

29 November, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Cllr Nickie Aiken: ‘I believe we are facing the biggest exploitation of children and young people that this country has ever seen’

A DRUG dealing gang from Westminster have an organised system for selling crack and heroin right across the country – and as far away as Aberdeen, according to the leader of the council.

Nickie Aiken warned that a generation of teenagers risk being lost to so-called “county lines” drug dealing but she insisted offenders should be thought of as “children first”.

The “county lines” term refers to a set-up where London dealers hire teenagers to take drugs around the country to areas of high demand and set up new trade networks. Often the mules are at high risk of custodial sentences and can end up trapped in poor living conditions similar to human slavery.

“I believe we are facing the biggest exploitation of children and young people that this country has ever seen,” said Cllr Aiken.

“Put simply, we risk losing an entire generation of young people unless the capital takes concerted action.”

She said that if it wasn’t illegal drugs they would be considered “outstanding entrepreneurs”.

Cllr Aiken said: “One Westminster gang is thought to supply drugs to 20 counties alone. The supply lines extend as far as Aberdeen.”

London council chief executives held a meeting last Monday to discuss the problem.

Cllr Aiken said: “Using a combination of modern slavery legislation and other powers, the police and local authorities do their best to harry those at the top of the drug pyramids by separating vulnerable teenagers from them. And they are vulnerable, typically 15 or 16, though some as young as 10 or 11, drifting outside the school system.

“These teenagers don’t see the big money.

“Among the forms of coercion used is that they are often robbed on purpose of drugs or money by gang leaders so they can be forced into working to repay these artificially manufactured debts. They may seem streetwise for their years but we are still dealing with children.

“What type of society have we come to if we forget that we have a responsibility as adults, as the state, for children to have the best start in life?”

She added: “I believe that teenagers found with crack cocaine should be viewed as victims first.

“Clearly you tackle offending behaviour but we have got to step back and understand what is happening in the lives of these children.”

A report from the police, education, care and probation last week said that children from any background could be sucked into the gangs.

It said: “Children targeted for the purpose of county lines come from a wide range of backgrounds. Local children can be groomed into selling drugs, as well as children from outside the area.

“County lines activity is dynamic and perpetrators will change their method of exploitation quickly, such as by targeting new groups of children to exploit in order to avoid detection.”

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