Newham, like many parts of the country, has a problem with organised criminals grooming children and using them to sell drugs. They call it “County Lines.”


Over the years, I’ve heard many stories from anguished parents, desperate to free their children from the grip of these ruthless gangs.


Many parents think it can’t happen to them. They are wrong. I know of police officers, priests and teachers who lost their children this way. Children are being groomed by neighbours, in schools, being kidnapped and reporting incidents to police, only to find themselves in trouble for things to which they inadvertently “confessed.” I’ve heard of parents begging for help, only to be considered “smothering.” I’ve heard of heart-broken mums, barring an older son’s entrance to their homes, to try and save younger ones from the gangs.


It doesn’t take much to make a child vulnerable to exploitation. If adults include them in their circle and buy them presents, even a burger, there’s a sense the child owes something in return. Maybe they’re just lookouts at first, a fairly innocuous act, but it gets very nasty very fast. Life becomes complex: too difficult for young teens to navigate. Once a child has been found in possession of drugs, or brings a knife into school, they are excluded, making them even more vulnerable: a pathway to no qualifications and no hope of a normal life. Attainable aspirations they had before being groomed evaporate.


Our children tell me how scared they are, unable to find help to escape. The “County Lines” scourge has blighted our community for a decade. Sadly, this Government’s approach to preventing child criminal exploitation does not work.


I’ve been battling to combat this for years. Two weeks ago, East Ham MP Stephen Timms and I held a day’s conference, seeking solutions. Good ideas evolved. Stephen and I will take them forward and press Government Ministers to provide leadership and changes in law to begin closing the gangs down.


Sadly this uncaring Government isn’t doing enough, but we are working together to get action. The very lives of our children are at stake.

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