June 3, 2021 10.35 am This story is over 13 months old

Lured into drug dealing and sexual violence: Youths warned of County Lines trap

Young people are potentially at risk with the easing of lockdown restrictions

Criminal gangs are trapping young and vulnerable people across Lincolnshire into a life of drug dealing, physical and sexual violence, a new campaign has warned.

The Crimestoppers charity will work to highlight the dangers of young people being groomed for County Lines operations.

The eight-week campaign brings attention to criminal groups who target young people and exploit them.

Typically, a lifestyle is sold before loyalty is tested, often through asking for favours and offering a sense of protection, which can then lead to those exploited being trapped through debt bondage, trafficking, isolation from family and friends and physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

Lincolnshire Police alongside West Midlands Police were the first to imprison a drug dealer in October 2018 for 14 years under the Modern Slavery Act for trafficking children.

Zakaria Mohammed was jailed for 14 years for forcing children to sell heroine and cocaine from a Lincoln drugs den.

The boys, aged 14 and 15, were befriended by the dealer. They were found in squalid living conditions in a flat with no heating or food.

Zakaria Mohammed. Photo: West Midlands Police

Any suspicions about organised drug gangs and victims can be reported to Crimestoppers 100% anonymously by calling freephone 0800 555 111 at any time or by completing a secure online form at Crimestoppers-uk.org or Fearless.org for young people, where more can also be learnt about the warning signs of County Lines activity.

Crimestoppers said the campaign’s timing is particularly important as potentially more young people risk being exploited with the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Lydia Patsalides, East Midlands Regional Manager at the charity Crimestoppers, said: “With schools thankfully back open and the ‘stay at home’ message changing and the re-opening of retail and hospitality, it’s great for the country and the economy, but it does come with more opportunities for young people to be exploited and organised crime gangs to take advantage.

“We are asking people to remain vigilant to the signs of grooming and the three grooming stages of targeting, testing and trapping. We are also appealing to everyone to help protect vulnerable members in our community from County Lines activity by telling us anonymously what you know.

“Crime information can be passed to Crimestoppers at any time by calling our freephone number 0800 555 111 or by completing a safe and secure anonymous online from at Crimestoppers-uk.org. Young people can also give information via Fearless.org 100% anonymously without fear of any repercussions. Our charity has always kept its promise of anonymity to everyone who contacts us.”