Published: 12:52, 04 July 2019
| Updated: 13:12, 04 July 2019
A schoolgirl’s horrific experiences at the hands of “county lines” dealers shows how recreational drug use is not a “victimless crime”, Kent’s police commissioner has warned.
KentOnline has revealed today how an 11-year-old was lured into life as a drugs mule for London gangs – after being groomed by a fellow pupil.
She details how she ended up in a Canterbury squat with 10 other boys, sleeping with them as a form of “rent”, as well as being drugged and tied up.
The term “county lines” is used when London gangs expand their operations to smaller towns, exploiting local children and vulnerable people to sell drugs. The recruits will use dedicated mobile phone “deal lines”, to take orders of heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine from users.
The girl’s shocking revelations underline how county lines has spread from coastal areas like Thanet and Dover to Canterbury in recent years.
Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott says the methods used to lure the pupil into exploitation are “all-too-familiar”.
“Cowardly county lines dealers think nothing of using young people to do their dirty work peddling drugs,” he said.
“Those who take recreational drugs like cocaine, heroin and cannabis often say theirs is a victimless crime – but this young woman’s story illustrates this is simply not the case. Hers is the human cost of your weekend high.”
Mr Scott has secured government funding until spring 2022 for the St Giles Trust, a charity that helps young people in Kent affected by county lines turn their lives around.
Last week he secured a further £500,000 from the Home Office.
Mr Scott wants to improve the force’s links with local schools – and to help parents spot signs their child may be being exploited.
He added: “I am pleased that this young woman was able to extricate herself from exploitation but I encourage her, and others like her, to contact Victim Support, St Giles Trust or police.
"They will safeguard you and help point you to the path away from the clutches of county lines.”
Det Supt Coretta Hine, of Kent Police’s public protection and partnership command, says the force is “successfully tackling county lines” with dedicated officers “who regularly bring offenders to justice”.
She added: “While we will never be complacent, it is important to remember that the vast majority of young people in Kent will never become involved in criminal activity, and that Kent remains a safe place to live, work and visit.”
The exploitation of children by county lines gangs has spread to Canterbury, a recent report reveals.
“Cowardly county lines dealers think nothing of using young people to do their dirty work peddling drugs...” - Matthew Scott, Kent Police and Crime Commissioner
The St Giles Trust says since last October girls have been referred to them for the first time.
The charity has been helping dozens of youngsters across Kent who are being used as drugs mules to turn their lives around.
The Trust's report says police have identified the girls - including a number in Canterbury - as highly vulnerable and in need of specialist support.
Meanwhile, police chiefs are linking a rise in drugs and violence to “the phenomenon of county lines organised crime”.
KentOnline previously revealed the number of reported violent crimes in Canterbury in 2018 was the highest on record.
There were also a greater number of people caught with weapons – which can include knives, guns and acid – than any other year. Kent has the fastest growing rate of knife crime in the country.
The St Giles Trust can be contacted on 020 7708 8000.