'How safe are our kids?' - People question police after county lines murder
PUBLISHED: 14:48 10 January 2020 | UPDATED: 19:44 10 January 2020
Members of a community have asked police, "how safe are our children?" following the murder of a man involved with county lines drugs dealing in their town.
At a Safer Thetford Action Group (STAG), public open meeting on October 3, police were called away to reports of a murder.
David Lawal was found on Brandon Road after he had been stabbed twice in the neck and chest, but despite the efforts of members of the public, who fought to save his life, Mr Lawal died.
More than three months since that night, it has been established that the murder of the 25-year-old from London is directly linked with county lines.
STAG invited Norfolk Police to its first open meeting since the incident, which was held on Thursday, January 9, to explain exactly what "county lines" is and to reassure the public that Thetford is still safe.
PC Paula Gilluley, community engagement officer, gave a presentation and said: "County lines is a business model, it's not all drug dealing and it's not local drug dealing.
"County lines refers to the activity used by urban drug dealers, usually based in a big city, to supply drugs to rural areas.
"Gangs establish a base in market towns after targeting vulnerable people to run their drugs into places like Thetford.
"But it's very much centered around child exploitation."
PC Gilluley explained that impoverished areas in towns are the most targeted locations to recruit vulnerable people to become drug runners.
Children or young teens are often groomed and offered money or even food.
"But once they are entrapped, the runner is recruited into the circle through some kind of debt bondage," said PC Gilluley.
"And threats of verbal and physical violence are made against the runner and even their families, meaning they can't get out. But they are just victims."
Kimmi Denise, is a former teacher who attended the meeting at the Carnegie Rooms, and said she has seen first-hand the effects of county lines on vulnerable children and she asked, "What are you doing to keep our kids safe in Thetford?". Sgt Simon Jones is part of the neighbourhood policing team in Thetford and was one of the officers called to the murder back in October.
He said: "On the front line we are out on the ground chatting to kids and we often use stop and search which is a controversial tool but it's also necessary.
"What we are seeing with county lines is extreme violence from young lads from 12 to 17 tooled up carrying lives with no fear of using it whatsoever.
"But this is at the forefront of policing. Fortunately, we don't have a lot of murders and we are trying to prevent what happened from ever being repeated."
Norfolk Police have also been giving presentations at schools around the county to educate children about county lines so they can recognise when they are being groomed, but police are also asking communities to look out for the signs.
PC Gilluley said: "We are never going to arrest our way out of this. We will never get rid of county lines.
"But we all have to work in partnership. You guys on the streets, you are our eyes and ears, if you see something that doesn't seem right report it to us.
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"We have dedicated operation gravity which is all about acting on intelligence that you guys have given to us.
"To find out where county lines might be happening and to stop it infiltrating Norfolk."
When another member of the public asked the final question, "how vulnerable are our children in Thetford?", Sgt Stone said: "Not massively.
"But we don't want to be complacent especially in impoverished areas in Thetford, it's not an affluent town so it is susceptible, but we don't want to scare people.
"We are fortunate we have not seen our children massively targeted."
Look out for the signs
Norfolk Police have urged communities to "look out for signs" as they say the only way to stop county lines is to work together.
If you suspect someone you know is involved, or may be vulnerable, here are a few signs to look out for:
- Spending time with older people
- Going missing or being isolated
- Bruises injuries
- Petty crime
- Threats, won't get to certain places
- Raised anxiety
- Gifts or unexplained money
- Weapons or drugs
Police also ask members of the public to look out for "cuckooing" which is when gang members in rural towns take over a vulnerable persons accommodation to use as their base.
To help someone involved in county lines to safely get out, call the police on 101 or 999.
Alternatively, for support, get in touch with The Matthew Project or the SOS Project at St Giles Trust.