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MP pushes for tough action on ‘county lines’ dealers

Nickie Aiken seeks use of anti-trafficking and grooming powers

17 January, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Nickie Aiken is congratulated by Labour’s Gordon Nardell at the general election count

NICKIE Aiken wants “county lines” drug dealers to be punished as if they are sex offenders.

The fledgling Conservative Cities of London and Westminster MP told the House of Commons this week how young and vulnerable people are being forced to travel out of London to set up drug operations in provincial towns.

On Tuesday she asked the justice minister what the government was doing to pursue the criminals with anti-trafficking and grooming legislation under the Modern Slavery Act.

In her second oral question in the Commons since the election on December 12, she said: “County lines drug gangs are involved in the largest exploitation of our children that this country has ever witnessed.

“Children from all walks of life are being groomed by these gangs. Given that women and girls are particularly at risk of being abused and exploited, what steps are the government taking to ensure that the criminal justice system is doing more to protect our women and girls, particularly using the Modern Slavery Act 2015?”

After the debate, Ms Aiken told the Extra: “There has been some success in using the Modern Slavery Act but, to me, it all seems a bit piecemeal.

“There have been successful prosecutions but it’s got to get embedded in the Crown Prosecution Service.

“I want to ask how we can use trafficking and grooming legislation better because these people are grooming these children.

“Kids are put into bondage. We’re talking 10- to 11-years-olds.

“I want to see if they can be placed on the sex offenders’ register.

“It sends a different message if they are classed as a sex offender. If they know they won’t be able to see their own kids if they are caught; they will be treated very differently.

“We need to stop the glamourisation of all of this.”

Justice minister Wendy Morton said: “I can assure her that colleagues in the home office are also working with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to take full advantage of powers in the Modern Slavery Act.”

PM Boris Johnson said later that day in an interview with the BBC that county lines gangs would be “wound up”.

Ms Aiken became an MP for the first time at the December election, replacing Mark Field who had held the seat since 2002.

She said so far she had put forward three questions in the Commons and each time they had been selected.

Ms Aiken said: “I’m still getting used to the whole place, how it all works. I’ve not done a maiden speech yet. I want to fit in with the right debate but the biggest subject I want to raise awareness on is rough sleeping.”

Her parliamentary office is in the 1 Parliament Street building “with two windows and a view of Portcullis House”, she added.

An induction programme had helped teach her about procedure “valuing and being respectful” to fellow MPs, she added.

Dismissing rumours of an immediate top job promotion from the prime minister, she said: “I’m just here as a local MP.”

A one-time staunch remainer, Ms Aiken voted in favour of the European Union withdrawal agreement along with 330 other MPs.

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