A campaign warning of the dangers of County Lines criminality - and the way such gangs target children on Merseyside - was launched today
Children from across Merseyside, regardless of their background, are at risk of being groomed by exploitative crime gangs.
That is the warning detectives and campaigners want every mum and dad to understand as they bid to highlight the threat posed by ruthless thugs.
It comes as police and Crimestoppers launched a campaign to raise awareness of County Lines, the drugs gang model built on the grooming and manipulation of children.
To showcase that message a powerful short film was released today to shine a light on the telltale signs a child may be being exploited - and the dire consequences of not taking action.
Gangs across the UK are increasingly using the County Lines model to further their influence.
Using the allure of money, flash cars and clothes or simply friendship and protection, evil ringleaders attempt to win the trust of children.
Once gained they then turn on the youngsters, calling on them to repay trust and favours by carrying out their dirty work.
Often that means children from Merseyside being asked to mind drugs and guns or being sent to the streets of towns beyond the region to peddle drugs from the homes of local addicts.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Barr, head of the North West regional crime fighting unit TITAN, today declared the operating model as a form of modern slavery.
He said: “By raising awareness of the issue today, we hope to increase community intelligence, and give help and support to young people through a range of partners in the community.
“Young people are being coerced, groomed and threatened by violence to take part in illegal activity across the North West and North Wales.
“We have chosen to launch this campaign at the International Slavery Museum [in Liverpool] because this is the modern face of slavery in our cities, towns, resorts and countryside.
“Many of these young people feel that they have not got a choice and struggle to find a way to escape from the hurt and harm that they are enduring on a daily basis.
“We want to educate vulnerable people on how they can avoid becoming a target to these criminal groups and give those vulnerable people caught up in this the confidence to break out of the cycle.
It can only be combatted if the public understand what it is, know how to spot the signs and know what to do if they think a person they know is being exploited.
“I would encourage anyone who has concerns about vulnerable people being targeted in this way to come forward and speak to us, either directly or anonymously through Crimestoppers.”
* If people suspect this is occurring where they live they can call Merseyside Police on 101, or 999 if a crime is in action, or independent charity Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.
The Telltale Signs
In children, signs they are a victim of criminal exploitation can be:
• going missing from home or absent from school without explanation;
• mixing with new friends their parents don’t know;
• experimental drug use, often cannabis;
• having more than one mobile phone;
• appearing nervous/scared/evasive/secretive;
• suffering injuries they can’t explain; having tickets for train or coach travel
In adults, signs of ‘cuckooing’ can include:
• a loved one or neighbour not being seen for some time;
• unknown visitors and vehicles to their house at unusual times;
• exchanges of cash or packages outside their home;
• open drug use in the street; damage and degradation to the appearance of their home;
• a change in their own personality or behaviour e.g used to say ‘hi’, now appears nervous/worried/intimidated