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Thanet: Kent's education chiefs reject 'county lines' gang claims

By Paul Francis

Education chiefs have rejected claims that vulnerable children in Thanet are being placed at risk by London gangs crossing so-called ‘County Lines’.

It follows renewed allegations by the executive head of an academy chain in Thanet that gangs are operating in the area and recruiting vulnerable children.

Paul Luxmoore, executive head of the Coastal Academies Trust, which runs five schools with 4,500 pupils, has repeated his fear that gangs were grooming children who were vulnerable.

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay has also downplayed the extent of the problem
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay has also downplayed the extent of the problem

He said “every single secondary school in Thanet and beyond had children in gangs” and the police and schools knew who they were.

But the man in charge of schools and children’s services at Kent County Council has rejected the claims and challenged Mr Luxmoore to produce evidence to back up his criticisms.

Matt Dunkley, children’s services director, said that while Thanet had challenges around deprivation, there was no evidence to support the suggestion that either social services or the police were failing children.

He said the council had received no referrals concerning child protection issues from the academy chain in the last 12 months.

“We looked at the evidence of the last 12 months and from our records we have received no child protection notifications from that academy chain of a child protection concern about any child from another local authority.”

“We have gone back and looked at the evidence and asked him to produce the evidence. I strongly refute any suggestion that social services have failed any individual children and I have asked him to produce some of the evidence of what he has alleged in general terms and in specific terms.”

He said that he sympathised with the challenges schools faced and it was “absolutely vital” to address them in a measured and proportionate way.

“I have very strong sympathy with some of his comments about the range and complexity of issues in east Kent and the type of issues he is dealing with. We know there are significant issues around deprivation and multiple levels of vulnerability - we know also that he suffers frustrations with other local authorities placing vulnerable children in that area without appropriate consultation and consideration.”

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No Caption ABCDE. (3040660)

“I am not accusing them [headteachers] of doing anything other than acting out of deep concern they have for children but it is important we do that in a measured and evidence-based way and particularly in a way that does not denigrates services who are doing a great job helping individual children.”

He said it was unhelpful for the area to be depicted as somehow dangerous for families.

“I do wonder what children and families feel about the media portrayal of their communities. It is important to be honest and acknowledge there are problems but not in a sense that suggests it is not an area to bring up children. That is not helpful.”

Mr Dunkley told county councillors that a meeting would take place with Mr Luxmoore to discuss the problems.

The South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay has also downplayed the extent of the problem but said he was prepared to arrange a summit involving headteachers and others.

If you have been affected by gang-related violence in Kent, get in touch via news@thekmgroup.co.uk

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