Children in Cheshire could be at greater risk of exploitation by county lines drug gangs during the coronavirus pandemic.
|As part of a week of action to highlight the issue, officers in Cheshire are working alongside partners to raise awareness of child criminal exploitation – and how to spot the signs.
Detective Inspector Eleanor Atkinson said: “Despite the current national lockdown there is a risk that young children are still being exploited and groomed by drug gangs.
“When children are in school they are in a protected and supervised environment making it less likely to be targeted by gangs looking to recruit them.
“For some children who may struggle with being at home they could potentially go missing, wander the streets and become vulnerable to the gangs who prey on them.
“It’s important the public look out for children who are alone, or with a group of older teenagers or men, perhaps in public spaces or using transport; as they could be in danger.
Schools provide a safe or supervised place for children and those who find home schooling difficult are more likely to visit parks, supermarkets and online environments such as gaming and social media platforms, which are a haven to gangs.
This could leave them more exposed to being groomed by gangs looking to recruit them as drug runners.
The gangs are part of a network known as ‘county lines’ who travel from cities such as Manchester and Liverpool into rural towns to supply drugs to users.
They are known to befriend youngsters by initially giving them money and expensive items but then often demand they run drug errands in return, which can lead to threats or violence.
You can help by spotting the signs below:
• Repeatedly going missing from school or home and being found in other areas
• Having money, new clothes or electronic devices and they can't explain how they paid for them
• Getting high numbers of texts or phone call and being secretive about who they're speaking to
• Decline in school or work performance
• Significant changes in emotional or physical well-being
• Hanging around in parks, supermarkets, using public transport or online games and social media platforms
David Keane, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, said: “Protecting Cheshire’s communities from serious and organised crime continues to be a key focus of my Police and Crime Plan.
“I am pleased police and partners are working together to raise awareness to help protect vulnerable children who may be at risk of drug gangs especially while schools remain closed under the government’s lockdown restrictions.
“Officers work day in and day out to protect the public and those most vulnerable from organised crime gangs but we must all play our part in recognising what signs to look out for.”
If you believe a child is being exploited please contact Cheshire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.
More information about county lines can be found here County lines | Cheshire Constabulary.
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