CRIMINAL exploitation of teenagers being forced to deal drugs by ruthless gangs can only be ended by groups working together, a senior worker in the sector has said.
Julian Wadsworth, from Active Communities Network, hosted major workshops in Portsmouth and Leigh Park on the growing problem of drug dealing on the ‘county lines’ model.
More than 310 professionals attended, with police and the Home Office represented.
It comes as ACN has run awareness and education workshops for people aged 10 to 20 at 14 places including schools, youth clubs, hostels, and at sheltered accommodation.
County lines sees dealers operate a mobile phone remotely, sending texts to known addicts in the target city by gangs from cities such as London and Manchester.
Around 30 such lines are being monitored by police in Hampshire, the workshops were told. Just last week a gang was jailed for 14 years.
Gangs force people – including children as young as 14 – to become street dealers and runners in target cities.
Mr Wadsworth, who has been running the county lines project for nine months, said: ‘We are not looking to engage those down the line who are already involved, as we don’t have the resources at the moment, but those who are on the edge. These workshops provide skills for all organisations to understand the signs and everyone working together can help us protect our young people.
‘We have organised these workshops in Portsmouth and Havant and we are working with the Office of the Police Crime Commissioner, the Home Office Ending Gang violence and exploitation project, volunteer groups, organisations, youth clubs and children’s services.
Portsmouth Safeguarding Children’s Board business manager Lucy Rylatt said: ‘We are doing a lot in Portsmouth to skill up our young people and make them more resilient and aware of this issue so they can get themselves out.’
The workshops provided the volunteers with information about spotting those potentially at risk and reporting it to the police.
Ms Rylatt added: ‘It is a concern that county lines and drugs are in our area with young people as we don’t like to think of our youngsters being involved in that.’