A SUPPORT worker helping vulnerable children escape predatory drug gangs has spoken of the crisis gripping the city.

Brighton and Hove is now the number one spot in the UK for County Lines and the result is a plague of drug deaths and exploitation.

This is due, in part, to its proximity to London and appetite for powerful and profitable drugs such as cocaine.

To help supply this demand, it is reported that children as young at ten are being recruited through social media by exploitative gangs to hold drugs and weapons.

Some will be kept in a “trap house” and forced to bag-up drugs through debt-bondage or threats to injure or kill their loved ones.

Officers from across the UK have been tackling London drugs gangs selling in counties including Sussex

Officers from across the UK have been tackling London drugs gangs selling in counties including Sussex

Shadow Youth Justice Minister, MP Peter Kyle, previously warned the city was enduring an overwhelming battle against ever-powerful cartels.

Now, support worker Chantal Greenfield, 25, speaks of the suffering she has seen first-hand as a campaign is launched to get those buying drugs to understand the consequences.

“The fact is, children are being exploited to provide you with a recreational activity,” Ms Greenfield said.

“The people might be getting drugs from look complacent and happy, but no one thinks of what’s going on behind the scene.”

Ms Greenfield has been working with the YMCA as a project worker for two years

She is at the frontline of efforts to help save children from County Lines gangs.

The term describes organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into areas of the UK.

Officers swooped on a property in Saltdean after receiving reports of suspected drug dealing

Officers swooped on a property in Saltdean after receiving reports of suspected drug dealing

Ms Greenfield said: “Children from as young as ten will be part of grooming process, made to hold onto drugs at home or on their person.

“Often they are used as they are less likely to get picked up by police.

“They will also be used to hold weapons used to move them around.

“They may also be held in trap house, which is used to store, manage and deal drugs and often young people kept at the address will be made to bag up drugs and have a hold of the phone.”

No child is seemingly safe from the clutches of the gangs, who are turning to inventive methods to entice and trap youngsters.

Ms Greenfield said: “More often than not, it is young people who are vulnerable or looking for security, money or a place of safety.

“Other times, it is young middle class people, or clean skins, who are not known to social services.

“They might be approached at school or social media where the gangs might be advertise for someone wanting to earn money, or wanting to be part of a community.

“They’ll put an advert on Snapchat, it can literally start from there, and a young person might think its small scale once twice, but fear can keep them in.”

Snapchat says measures are in place to tackle criminal activity ViktorHanacek.cz

Snapchat says measures are in place to tackle criminal activity ViktorHanacek.cz

Child Criminal exploitation is a type of abuse where children are coerced in to committing criminal acts.

On the surface it may appear that children who are criminally exploited have made a freely given choice.

However, violence including sexual violence and weapons will be used to manipulate them to commit crimes.

The children may also be forced into servitude through “debt bondage”.

This happens when a person is forced to work to pay off a debt and are tricked into working for little or no pay, according to antislavery.org.

The value of their work will become greater than the original sum of money borrowed.

The children suffering under these gangs may be referred to Ms Greenfield’s service by schools, or social services.
From there, they will analyse the “push and pull factors” in the child’s situation and become a trusted adult in a bid to shepherd them away from the gangs.

Ms Greenfield said: “It’s about building a relationship and having open and honest conversations.

“The key to this supporting is to look at what they need? What are they getting out of the situation?

“Is it about love or money? What is it that we can help them with and how can we safeguard them and going forward?”

A new campaign, WiSE Up To Exploitation, is being launched by YMCA DownsLink Group alongside a group of Brighton University student volunteers.

It aims to educate students and the wider community of child criminal exploitation and its role in getting drugs into city residents’ pockets.

It comes after Shadow Youth Justice Minister MP Peter Kyle revealed "clever" criminals are exploiting weaknesses within our authorities to target our children.

He explained that systems are not adequately set-up to deal with cross-border threats and blasted middle-class people funding this growing drug trade by taking "cocaine with friends around the dinner table".

Hove and Portslade MP Peter Kyle

Hove and Portslade MP Peter Kyle

Speaking about the new campaign, he said: “Young people from all across the country are coerced to travel long distances, putting themselves in mortal danger and held in modern slavery to exploitative drug gangs.

“These gangs hold vulnerable young people in debt bondage, often threatening to injure or kill loved ones unless the victims do as they say.

"Tackling child criminal exploitation is at the heart of my ambitions as MP for Hove, and Labour’s Shadow Minister for Victims and Youth Justice.
“That’s why I’m so pleased to support YMCA WiSE’s campaign to raise awareness of child criminal exploitation in Brighton and Hove.

“We are a top target for county lines dealers across the UK - now it’s time to fight back.”

To find out what you can do to help or how to spot the signs that someone you know maybe being exploited, visit https://www.ymcadlg.org/wise-up-to-exploitation/ and follow @ymcawise on all social media platforms.

Speaking previously, Detective Superintendent Mike Ashcroft said: "Brighton and Hove Police is taking robust action on drug dealing in the city. We have numerous operations and tactics in place to identify and prosecute offenders involved in the supply of harmful substances including our Tactical Enforcement Unit which is a dedicated response to targeting disrupting serious criminal activity.

“It is our daily business to target and prosecute offenders through warrants, patrols, proactive arrests and intelligence gathering.

“Let me be clear in saying that we will not and do not tolerate those who seek to exploit the vulnerable through the supply of drugs. Like in many cities within close reach of London, County Lines drug dealers operate in Brighton and we work closely with partners in the Metropolitan Police to systematically dismantle lines running into our city and disrupt the supply.

“These criminals are people who will take advantage others, sometimes the young and the vulnerable, to run drugs locally. Victims of this form of exploitation can find themselves trapped in a lifestyle of criminality where issues such as knife crime are sometimes linked. These aren't issues that are unique to Brighton and sadly are problems being seen by Forces across the UK.

“While we are making significant progress in tackling issues such as drugs and knife possession in Brighton, it is a complex issue that police cannot address alone. In partnership we continue to try and reduce the demand and support those addicted to these harmful substances.”

Snapchat says its Community Guidelines explicitly state that it must not be used for any illegal activities, including to buy or sell illegal drugs, contraband, counterfeit goods or illegal weapons.

It also says it prohibits the promotion and use of certain regulated goods, as well as the depiction or promotion of criminal activities.

The social media company said its in-app reporting tool allows any Snapchat user to "easily flag and report" concerning or inappropriate content that violate our Community Guidelines.

These will then be passed, it says, to its Global Trust and Safety team, which works 24/7 to review reports, remove violating content, and take additional appropriate action, which can include deleting accounts and referring material to law enforcement.