DEALERS are using supermarket car parks to deliver drugs during the corononavirus lockdown, it has been claimed.
Despite Brits being told to stay indoors, gangs are making very effort to continue their trade, including preying on youngsters to carry on the so-called county lines trade.
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Matthew Norford, a drug gang member turned youth worker from Manchester, said gangs also finding new ways to sell their drugs during the pandemic.
“They’ll suggest you meet at Asda, or at the off-licence, when you’re getting your essentials," he told The Times.
"A lot of them are meeting [customers] when they’re out walking."
Fears have also been raised about the county lines drug networks, which are estimated to make £500million a year, and are blamed for the number of modern slavery cases involving children soaring.
According to Stop and Prevent Adolescent Criminal Exploitation, which campaigns on behalf of children recruited by drugs gangs, the March 20 closure of schools has been a “massive opening” for the criminals.
“Vulnerable children were already being exploited when they were at school,” the organisation said.
NARCO NETWORKS What is the county lines child exploitation scandal and how are children being groomed to run drugs for London dealers?
COUNTY lines is a sinister drug running technique that gangs are using to sell drugs in other towns by exploiting kids and vulnerable adults.
The dealing technique uses young people or vulnerable adults to carry and sell drugs across county boundaries using dedicated mobile phone hotlines.
The advantage to dealers is they can sell drugs outside the area they live in – often impoverished towns – and therefore reduce the risk of getting caught.
A criminal group may also target a vulnerable person living in an area outside of London and other major cities and take over their home as a base to sell drugs from.
Boys aged 14-17 are the most often targeted, however girls can also be exploited, often starting a relationship with a gang member that can lead to sexual and domestic violence.
Adults who are drug addicts or have learning difficulties are also targeted.
Signs to look out for that someone is involved in County Lines activity:
- Returning home late, staying out all night or going missing
- Being found in areas away from home
- Increasing drug use, or being found to have large amounts of drugs on them
- Being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going
- Unexplained absences from school, college, training or work
- Unexplained money, phone(s), clothes or jewellery
- Increasingly disruptive or aggressive behaviour
- Using sexual, drug-related or violent language you wouldn’t expect them to know
- Coming home with injuries or looking particularly dishevelled
- Having hotel cards or keys to unknown places
** According to Children's Society
“So you can imagine, now that schools are closed, that this is providing a massive opening for gangs.
“Schools were keeping many children on track. You take that track away and they are nowhere.
“Children are going to go awol and parents will feel they won’t be able to do anything about it.
“Parents often get in their car and go looking for their children when they go missing. You can’t do that now because you’re going to get pulled over by the police.”
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There are now 2,000 county lines operating in the UK, sending children as young as 11 and 12 from London, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester to country towns the length and breadth of Britain to deliver drugs.
Becky Fedia, manager of The Children’s Society’s National Disrupting Exploitation Programme, said kids in difficult home situations and without contact with friends are more likely to go missing.
“Families living in poverty are also likely to face further financial challenges in the coming months, which criminals may try to exploit by grooming children with promises of easy cash," she said.
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