Published: 12:51, 04 July 2019
| Updated: 14:08, 04 July 2019
A former schoolgirl has told how she was lured into the dark world of county lines drugs gangs - aged just 11.
We are protecting the identity of the girl, who went to school in Canterbury, for her own safety.
Here is her harrowing story.
It all started when I began secondary school. I could see the disappointment on my mum’s face as she dressed me for my first day. I hadn’t got a place at her ideal school.
But after about three months, I had settled in nicely. For the first time in my life, I had a good group of friends and I finally felt like a normal child.
Until, one day a new boy joined our school. He was good looking and from London.
He had a certain swagger about him and wore only designer clothes.
He became my boyfriend and after school we would go to McDonald’s, where he would buy me food every day.
He would often go back to London at the weekends, something he said was mandatory “family time”; something he couldn’t get out of, ever. Eventually, he began to invite me.
Seven months into the relationship, I was head over heels in love.
Life at home was getting progressively worse and I barely spoke to my mum - a single parent who worked 10-hour night shifts.
One day, my boyfriend gave me a box wrapped up and told me it was a surprise. I wasn’t to open it until the end of the month.
But I couldn’t contain my excitement. Underneath the lavish wrapping paper was a standard blue Adidas shoebox.
The box had been sealed with brown scotch tape. As I began to peel it back, my mum came in. I threw it to the side, hiding it under my duvet and left.
I went away for the weekend to Devon to see my grandmother. Arriving home two days later, I was greeted by my mum and more than £100,000 worth of heroin wraps. Furious and still in a state of shock, she struck me with her hand and as I hit the floor with confusion, she hit me again.
I grabbed the box and ran. I walked the streets for hours. Finally, my boyfriend approached me.
"We would spend our weekends in London, smuggling drugs across the county lines under the noses of the tired train inspectors..." - Canterbury schoolgirl
He was furious as he spotted the box in my left hand. I was battered and bruised from my mum and it was obvious I was in a vulnerable state.
I remember watching his face switch from hard, cold stone to baby-soft in a matter of seconds, as he embraced me and told me it would all be OK.
I stayed with him and his friends for the next three years.
We both stopped going to school and mostly squatted in various empty properties across Canterbury.
We would spend our weekends in London, smuggling drugs across the county lines under the noses of the tired train inspectors.
Eventually, I was made to pay my way around the squat. Living with 10 boys isn’t paradise.
"As a form of “rent”, I was to sleep with whoever wanted me at the time and contraception was never their main priority..." - Canterbury schoolgirl
I had to cook and clean for them, ensuring that I didn’t ruin their designer clothes.
As a form of “rent”, I was to sleep with whoever wanted me at the time and contraception was never their main priority.
I now have herpes, which is an incurable infection. I had chlamydia for more than six years, which has led to me being infertile at the age of 18.
At 16, I purchased what is known on the streets as a “Rambo knife” which I would carry with me at all times, even while asleep.
I would roam the streets most nights with another “soldier”. I’d have to wait around for hours on street corners and outside nightclubs trying to make enough money to return home with.
I became a violent, horrible person. My social media accounts were made purely to honey-trap boys.
In order to set up boys from rival gangs, I would send them indecent images of myself.
When we would eventually meet, they would be jumped, beaten and tied up - humiliated on social media and thrown into the woods.
The day I decided it was enough, I was tied up and trapped in a room for hours. I can’t tell you how long, because I was drugged. I was force-fed food and still people would have sex with me. It took more than a year before I finally escaped.
I remember the day of my escape vividly and it still haunts me in my sleep.
I went on the London run - this time mentoring a fragile and nervous 13-year-old boy.
Looking in his innocent eyes, I decided if I could just save this one boy, at least I’d saved someone.
I grabbed hold of his hand and told him we had to get off the train immediately.
He looked scared, so I lied and told him the police had boarded the carriage.
I managed to get us onto another train undetected.
My heart was beating hard as we made our way towards Margate.
"Looking in his innocent eyes, I decided if I could just save this one boy, at least I’d saved someone..." - Canterbury schoolgirl
As we got off the train, I called my mum for help.
As soon as she heard my voice, she began to cry. She came and collected us immediately and took us to a safe location. I am still here now.
My mum cried for hours. She thought she had lost me and blamed herself. My brother was grown up, but he didn’t quite understand what had happened to me and I couldn’t explain. I didn’t want to share my story; I didn’t want to go through the pain again.
One day, I decided my story is important and can encourage other people to wake up from their lives and realise that we do not live in the bubble of “perfect Kent”, to realise there is a serious epidemic infecting our community.
Although it may not be as publicised as much as in London, it’s still happening on our streets.
I know they are looking for me. I know they are still out to get me, but my voice is more powerful than a knife or a gun.
If this story encourages at least one person to speak out, I will know it was all worth it.
More by this authorAleeza Shah