Police + Fire

Greater Manchester stamps down on County Lines Organised Crime Groups

AUTHORITIES took part in a week of action targeting criminal exploitation and county lines organised crime groups in Greater Manchester.

Last week, police forces and partner organisations across the country took part in operations to combat organised crime groups making life a misery for victims, with Greater Manchester Police working with partners to target criminals in the city-region.

Through Programme Challenger, police, local authorities, criminal justice agencies and the voluntary sector in Greater Manchester have been brought together to tackle and raise awareness of grooming and exploitation, and various activities were carried out last week as part of this.

The Trapped campaign was launched in Greater Manchester in 2017 and aims to raise awareness of issues around criminal exploitation amongst the public and professionals. Before July 2017 there were no crimes recorded by Greater Manchester Police in relation to criminal exploitation, in 2017 four crimes were recorded and in 2018 there was 50 crimes recorded.

GMP officers, alongside colleagues from British Transport Police, targeted criminals who use the rail network to move drugs and traffic vulnerable people for exploitation during the crackdown, as well as gathering intelligence while disrupting offenders.

Some of the results from the week of action include:

  • Four arrests for possession with intent to supply
  • Seizure of more than 70 wraps of heroin and cocaine
  • Seizure of rail cards and phone SIM cards believed to be being used for criminal activity
  • Four vulnerable people identified and referred to the appropriate services
  • Leaflets about Trapped were handed out at major train stations and were shown at ticket information desks

Criminal exploitation sees offenders groom, threaten, force or trick victims into carrying out their crimes. If the victim does not comply the offender may use violence, or threaten the victim’s family to ensure they get what they want. Gifts may be given to the victim as a reward to keep them on side which leads to them becoming trapped in a spiral of intimidation, fear and debt.

County Lines describes gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more areas within the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines. They often exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store drugs and money and will often use coercion, violence and weapons.

Victims could also be criminally exploited and forced to carry out other crimes such as arson, violent offences, criminal damage, assault or robbery. They could also be forced to store firearms or money.

To highlight the devastating impact criminal exploitation and county lines can have, one mother has bravely shared her heart-wrenching story of how her 13-year-old son was groomed by criminal organised crime groups to commit crime in order to help encourage more people to speak out to prevent other families going through the same misery and turmoil that she and her son have.

Lisa’s* story began three year ago when her eldest son first went missing from their family home in Greater Manchester, after months of truanting and struggling at school. The police found him in a different borough of the city-region and when he was back home he was behaving erratically and ‘wasn’t himself’. That day Lisa found drugs and a mobile phone that she hadn’t seen before in his bag and called the police. Quizzing her son on the find, he told Lisa that ‘somebody would be after’ him now the drugs were with the police.

A few days later Lisa’s son went missing again. He was arrested in a rural county outside Greater Manchester in possession of drugs and weapons and was taken to a secure unit, where he was held on remand for nine months. Lisa tell how her son looked like a ‘broken little boy’, who hadn’t eaten or washed for days, and all he could say was ‘I’ve got to do it for these men’ or there would be consequences.

Three years on Lisa and her family are trying to move on and her son is trying to get an apprenticeship and rebuild his life.

Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester Bev Hughes said: “Criminal exploitation is a vile form of modern slavery, where humans are treated as commodities. It must be stopped. Children and vulnerable adults are being exploited, threatened and trapped by organised crime groups to do their criminal work.

“Lisa’s heart-wrenching story really brings home the devastating impact of this vile and unforgivable crime. By bravely sharing her family’s experience, I hope Lisa’s story will help more people recognise the signs of exploitation, raise awareness of how to get help and support, and encourage communities to work with us to help prevent children and young people falling prey to these criminals.”

Detective Sergeant Jamie Pearson from Programme Challenger’s Organised Crime Coordination Unit said: “Criminal exploitation is an abhorrent crime that prays on children and vulnerable adults.

“Those subjected to this form of exploitation are victims, not criminals and I want to reassure anybody who feels trapped that there is a way out.

“Effective action to tackle this issue relies on early reporting so I would urge anyone with concerns about a family member to get in touch so that we can support those affected and bring those responsible to justice.”

Some signs that a young or vulnerable person could be ‘Trapped’ and need help are:

  • Young people going missing and travelling to seaside or market towns
  • School absence or missing from school
  • Money, clothes or accessories which they are unable to account for
  • Receiving an excessive amount of texts and phone calls
  • Relationships with controlling / older individuals or groups
  • Carrying weapons
  • Significant decline in school results / performance
  • Self-harm or significant changes in emotional wellbeing

To report a crime call Greater Manchester Police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.

If you have information or suspicions that someone is being criminally exploited, you can contact GMP via www.programmechallenger.co.uk/contact/ or Modern.slavery@gmp.police.uk or call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.

To pass on information anonymously call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Notes to Editors

Lisa’s name has been changed to protect the identity of her and her son

To listen to audio of an interview with Lisa, click here.

Programme Challenger is Greater Manchester’s partnership approach to tackling serious and organised crime. More information is available at www.programmechallenger.co.uk


Article Published: 31/01/2019 11:34 AM