Published: 10:27, 11 October 2018
| Updated: 12:29, 11 October 2018
Theresa May has been urged to crack down on county lines drugs gangs in Kent.
During Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday MP Charlie Elphicke raised the rise of these operations, stressing the background of rising drug deaths in Kent.
This is where London dealers target youngsters in regional towns to run drug operations.
He stressed that there are now 48 county lines in operation in the Kent and Mrs May accepted that this has been a growing problem.
The Dover and Deal MP asked Mrs May in Parliament: “Does the Prime Minister share my concern that drug-related deaths in Kent have doubled in the last three years?
“The rise of county lines operations means there are now 48 separate gang operations in Kent.
“Does she agree with me that it’s important for the Home Office to put more priority on making sure we win the war on drugs”
She replied: “I understand a new co-ordination centre is being set up to ensure that the work which the National Crime Agency has been leading in relation to county lines – that we do see that proper integration of work between the NCA and the forces that are involved.
“We saw very recently a case in Birmingham where an individual was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, for having effectively enslaved three children to sell drugs for them as part of this county lines approach that is being taken, and pleaded guilty to modern slavery.
“But we recognise this has been a growing problem and the Home Office is taking action."
Mr Elphicke's question to the Prime Minister comes after the Home Office axed funding for a project which has dramatically reduced child gang activity in Kent.
The St Giles Trust charity has been training people with previous experience in gangs to become specialist caseworkers.
They are then assigned to troubled youngsters involved in county lines across Kent.
According to a new report, the number of children reported missing due to suspected gang activity dropped by 40% in Dover and 65% in Margate in the months after the project launched in September 2017.
Kent Police calculated more than a quarter of a million pounds had been saved in resources, compared to £80,000 spent on the caseworkers.
The scheme was successful but the Home Office would not extend the funding.
Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott instead agreed to provide cash until next April.
But Mr Elphicke wants the Home Office to recognise how vital this project is and commit to long-term funding.
He has also been supporting Families United, a group of Dover parents whose children have been caught up in county lines.
They are trying to raise awareness of the issue and have been working closely with the St Giles Trust.
A report by Public Health England in May said that there were 213 drug-related deaths in Kent between 2014 and 2016, compared to just 111 between 2011 and 2013.