Police continues fight against county lines and criminal exploitation on Anti-Slavery Day
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Detectives have urged everyone to play their part in tackling county lines as new police figures highlighted 200 missing episodes and slavery referrals linked to criminal exploitation in a matter of months here in Bedfordshire.
Between July and October, Bedfordshire Police received 144 missing reports connected to 21 children aged 17 and under, who could be either a victim or at risk of exploitation.
Frequently going missing may be a sign that a child or young person is falling victim to, or becoming more vulnerable to, sexual exploitation or criminal exploitation by county lines drugs gangs.
County lines typically involves drugs gangs selling their products in other towns using a dedicated phone line.
These offenders are often linked to serious violence and use intimidation, grooming and exploitation, particularly of young or vulnerable people, to run drug dealing networks across the country.
Figures released by the force on today’s (Tuesday’s) Anti-Slavery Day show that 56 potential cases of modern slavery linked to county drugs lines were identified in Bedfordshire in the 12 months to and including September 2022.
Referrals were made by police and other agencies in the county to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which is a framework used to identify victims that have been exploited or trafficked and ensures they receive the appropriate support, with the investigation then undertaken by the police.
Recent data from the Home Office showed that last year, 109 children aged 17 and under were identified as potential victims of human trafficking or modern slavery in the county.
Detective Inspector Katherine Rivers, who heads up the force’s Missing Persons team, said: “Unfortunately, many of the young missing people we deal with are the victims of exploitation.
“They may have been groomed by older people into sexual exploitation, or pressured into joining a gang and coerced into criminal exploitation, such as drug running.
“These gangs target children, some not even in their teens yet, to sell drugs and carry weapons, and can be sent across the country travelling by train, bus or taxi.
“We are doing everything we can to stamp out this criminality and safeguard and support children and young people, but we would urge people to report anything that may seem suspicious.”
Earlier this month Bedfordshire Police joined police forces in a week of action to target county lines gangs, making nine arrests including charging a man from Bedford with modern slavery offences.
Months of enforcement by police alongside prevention work by officers and other agencies like the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) saw the number of recorded incidents of serious youth violence per month drop by 21 per cent in August and September compared to the previous three months.
There are some key signs to spot that a young person may be involved in county lines:
Having expensive items they should not be able to afford, like expensive clothes and trainers.
In possession of lots of different mobile phones.
Relationships with older people.
Lots of train and bus tickets they can’t explain.
Using phrases like going country, going cunch, trap house, plugging and bando.