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Children in care targeted by drug gangs - and then sent to deal in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 08:00 18 September 2018 | UPDATED: 12:30 08 October 2018

Police officers ram a door during Operation Granary. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Police officers ram a door during Operation Granary. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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Gangs have opened up a new front in the war on drugs - recruiting children who have been taken into care.

Police warned last year that drug gangs were exploiting vulnerable children.

But the scale of it is only now coming to light.

It comes as Norfolk County Council launches a new £250,000 scheme to protect children from gangs

Figures from Norfolk police show children as young as 14 have been charged with supplying heroin in the last year. And in 2017 50 boys aged 16 or under were arrested for supplying drugs. In Suffolk, police caught 45 boys and six girls for dealing.

The majority of the teenagers are not charged with a crime.

Instead they are sent back to children’s services or reunited with foster carers or parents.

But Norwich Crown Court heard last month how children sold crack and heroin, often after leaving the care system.

One 16-year-old boy, who was caught dealing in Norwich, was recruited after being placed in a care home in the city.

Rebecca White, from Norwich social enterprise Your Own Place, said 80pc of the teenagers she worked with in one project for youngsters who have been recruited by drug gangs had been in care.

“It is a risk for young people in transition,” she said. “They may be seeking kudos or seeking cash.”

The Daily Mail reported on Monday that some of the young dealers had been moved by councils in London to Norfolk to protect them from gangs, but once in Norfolk they joined new gangs.

Police have arrested children from London, Essex, Surrey, Leicestershire and Teesside in their current crackdown on drug gangs.

Many of the young runners are sent from London to Norfolk as part of a network of gangs called ‘County Lines’. The lines operating in Norfolk are thought to be making up to £40m a year.

Assistant Chief Constable Paul Sanford said: “It is a sad fact that during this operation we have arrested a number of children in their late teens. Where it is appropriate, prosecutions do follow.

“However, on many occasions our focus has been on protecting the child and preventing their further exploitation.”

In an interview with this newspaper earlier this year a former addict said gangs referred to the children as ‘Bics’, as they were disposable like a Bic razor.

Councillor Penny Carpenter, chairman of Norfolk County Council children’s services committee, said: “All parents need to be alive to this and identify the signs themselves in children.

“We are all working extremely hard but I think the parents have a role to play in this about understanding a child, knowing where that child is, about excessive phone use and perhaps them going missing, or if they are using drug language or for some apparent reason you haven’t given them the money but they are walking in with a new pair of trainers or new jacket.

“As soon as we become aware of a child involved in county lines, we respond the same day.

“We work to rebuild trusting relationships with them and give them the help they need to get their lives back on track.”

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