BY KATE DENNETT
Children in one borough are being exploited by criminal gangs more than in any other.
In Lambeth, 271 people have links to county lines, according to Mayor of London figures.
County lines are criminal gangs that prey on young people to supply drugs across counties, using mobile phone networks – 15 per cent of all activity begins in the capital and drives gang-related violence.
The findings are the first year results of the Mayor’s £3million investment for a three-year Rescue and Response (R&R) programme to better understand and respond to county lines.
Lambeth had 37 referrals made into the R&R project in the first year.
South London made up the most referrals in the whole of London, with 160 people referred across the first year.
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “County lines operate across the country, exploiting vulnerable young people and driving gang-related violence.
Now, for the first time, through the Rescue and Response programme, we are beginning to see the devastating scale of the impact with thousands of young people involved in lines reaching all corners of the country.
“We are supporting young people where we can, but we know we’re only scratching the surface of a major national issue that is driving violence in London and across the country.
“The Government has finally admitted that its cuts to policing have gone too far – but it also needs to follow City Hall’s lead by being tough on the causes of crime.
That means proper investment to help us prevent and support more young people being exploited and reversing the damaging cuts to local services, such as social services, which are at the frontline in the battle to tackle this issue.”
South London had a total of 1346 county links, with 1080 of these links being proven and another 266 being suspected links.
North London have only found 990 county line links and West London had an even lower 618 county line links.
London’s Violence Reduction Unit aims to reduce school exclusions and offers more support for young people after school.
St Giles Trust, Abianda and Safer London are all working to support county lines victims and are all at capacity. They currently have referrals on a waiting list.
Abi Billinghurst, Founder and CEO at Abianda said: “Abianda is proud to be a partner in the Rescue and Response team.
The work we have done with young women in the capital over the past year reminds us how important it is to maintain a focus on young women and girls who are affected by county line activity.
As the high demand for this service shows, young women and girls are very much affected by criminal exploitation and yet are so often overlooked and misunderstood.
“We are delighted that the Mayor is prioritising services for young women and girls.
With his support we have been able to reach some of the most vulnerable young women and girls in our communities who experience exploitation, violence, and coercion on a daily basis.
Our unique programme has allowed girls in the capital to access services they so desperately need, recognise their own strengths and options, and to be free from harm and abuse.”
Many young people are scared and criminal gangs target vulnerabilities in their lives to recruit them.
One young person referred to Rescue and Response was set up purposely for exclusion from school by his exploiters.
Another one young person who suffered domestic trauma at an early age and had joined a criminal gang, was kidnapped and forced to work off the debt he owed after being arrested.
Evan Jones, Head of Child Criminal Exploitation at St Giles, said: “We really welcome the fact that the Mayor has given us the opportunity to help some of the most vulnerable young people in the capital as part of the Rescue and Response partnership.
The high number of referrals shows that there previously wasn’t the right support available for these young people, we now have some referrals on a waiting list so more capacity is urgently needed.
“However, many young people who were heavily involved in county lines activity have now thankfully got their young lives back with the help of Rescue and Response.
We hope to continue this work until we have fully addressed county lines exploitation and ensured children and young people at risk are kept safe and get the futures they deserve.”