DRUG dealers coercing young children into peddling crack cocaine and heroin on the streets are violently attacking them, threatening them with rape and targeting youngsters’ families, a senior detective has told The News.
Terrified children as young as 12 are forced by out-of-town dealers to sell class A drugs on the streets in a model replicated across the country – and are violently attacked if they try to back out.
Flash trainers, food and cash are used to attract the children by criminal gangs, often based in London. They either set Portsmouth youngsters to deal on the streets or force them to travel to the city.
Detective Chief Inspector Nick Heelan is leading the fight against the scourge of hard class A drug networks – branding as ‘evil’ those who recruit children.
For 18 months Portsmouth’s drug-related harm team has been disrupting those feeding the city’s addicts’ habits.
As DCI Heelan revealed a spike in serious violence against children aged 12-17 in the county and warned youngsters are targeted daily by drug dealers, he said the team has:
l Arrested 120 people in the 12 months to June.
l Taken £32,000 worth of drugs off the streets in the same period.
l Seized £58,000 worth of cash from dealers.
‘With county lines we see youngsters that are terrified - threatened to bring drugs into the area,’ DCI Heelan said.
‘Then once they’ve done it they do it again, then they start to do it more.
‘It might look glamorous that you’re getting free trainers but you could be beaten up, stabbed or raped - or they threaten your family.’
Julian Wadsworth, who does intervention work with youngsters at Active Communities Network, said: ‘If we’ve got a group of young people that are vulnerable that police have eyes on and drug dealers are exploiting them, chances are sooner or later they’re going to get picked up by the police.’
DCI Heelan, a police officer with 23 years’ experience, has been leading the area’s response to county lines drug networks, organised crime groups and serious violence for eight weeks.
In 2015 months of hard work paid off when an investigation involving Hampshire police’s then biggest seizure of drugs - including 42kg of cocaine, MDMA with a street value of around £2m, 2kg of amphetamine and 3kg of cannabis - finished with the jailing of six gang members.
And from years of experience in investigations, he knows members of the public, family, teachers and professionals working with children could help provide vital information that could track down and stop a drug network.
It could be simple: a child with new flash trainers or if a parent spots the phone number their son or daughter is using to contact dealers selling them class A drugs.
Speaking at his base in the Civic Offices, Guildhall Square, DCI Heelan said: ‘Having worked on drug investigations for many, many years we need the help of parents, mums, dads, aunts and uncles, guardians to tell us what’s going on.
‘We’re talking about heroin and crack and running drugs from London to Portsmouth or even drug dealers bringing it to Portsmouth and getting our local kids to run them.
‘We’ve seen 12 to 18-year-olds coming into Portsmouth, bringing supplies of heroin - they’re at threat of harm from drug dealers in London who are sending them here.’
He added: ‘The dealers are using youngsters here to run the drugs around locally.’
Officers have acknowledged a county lines network is easily replaced when it is taken out.
But DCI Heelan said: ‘I’d like to think (in a year’s time) we will have reduced the risk - reduced Portsmouth lads being used to run drugs and youngsters from London being used to run drugs and persons involved in the supply of drugs will think Portsmouth is a hostile place to try and ply their trade.
‘My job is to dismantle their business and we’ll do everything we can to manage that.’