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Drug crime victims now number 100

Shocking new figures show an alarming number of vulnerable people are at risk of being exposed to county lines crimes in Stratford district.

Last year 12 victims were identified by the district council, and that number has now risen to 100.

In partnership with agencies such as P3 and drug advice service Change Grow Live, the district council identify those at risk and put in place measures to prevent involvement, protect victims and divert those involved away from county lines crimes.

The alarming rise in the number of those deemed to be at risk is reflected in the council’s decision to change its approach.

Community protection portfolio-holder, Christopher Kettle, said: “It was increasingly recognised by partner agencies that the county lines model will target new individuals who may be vulnerable and in order to prevent this our approach has now changed to risk-assess a wider group of people who may be vulnerable, so they can be identified earlier and interventions put in place earlier. The revised approach is police-led, with equal council attention and support and is consistent with other local authorities in the area.”

Despite its impact on communities across the UK, county lines proves difficult to identify. Research published in June 2021 by anti-slavery charity Unseen found that 53 per cent of adults surveyed confessed to little or no knowledge of what county lines means.

Around a third of parents also said they would not feel confident spotting the signs if their child was being used for the drug operations.

The charity shared case study Daniel’s story. It said: “Fiona noticed that her son Daniel had started to change and was spending more time away from home. The teenager had started using drugs and had lost weight.

“Eventually Daniel revealed to Fiona that he had been befriended by members of a gang who offered him alcohol and drugs. The gang members used this to create a ‘debt’ that Daniel owed them. To pay off the debt Daniel was forced to sell drugs on behalf of the gang. If Daniel tried to leave them, the gang said they would track him down and cut off one of his limbs.

“Fiona phoned the Unseen anti-slavery helpline, and the team assessed that Daniel was a victim of criminal exploitation.”

The advice given to Fiona included information on the relevant powers police could use to protect Daniel,and his statutory defence under the Modern Slavery Act.

Unseen’s Justine Currell, said: “Modern slavery takes many forms, including county lines exploitation involving children. We are shocked to see awareness of county lines is by far the worst, with nearly one in five people saying they have never heard of it.”

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