Sharp rise in number of children at risk from gangs

The number of children at risk from gangs In Essex has increased sharply in the past three years, new Government statistics have shown.

Social services assessed 10,938 children in Essex in 2018/19. Of those, 369 were deemed to be either already in a gang, at risk of joining one, or at risk of violence from a gang.

The number was up from 244 cases the year before, and nearly four times as many as the 98 cases seen in 2014/15, when the figures were published for the first time.

Those children under the protection from Essex County Council at risk from gangs increased from 79 cases in 2016/17 to 164 in 2018/19, a rise of 107 per cent.

The rise exceeds that of the average in England which saw a rise of 66 per cent in the same period.

The issue of drug gangs, knife crime and county lines has been recognised by Essex County Council as a local, regional and national issue.

The council subscribed £640,000 to the Police, Crime and Fire Commissioner’s Office to further expand this multi-agency work to tackle the issue last year.

Essex is one of the top destinations for young drug dealers involved in London county lines gangs, new figures have shown.

A report from City Hall in London, which details the reach and type of county lines activity going on in the capital, shows that between January 2018 and April 2019, 121 individuals referred to the City Hall-funded Rescue and Response programme had links to Essex.

A meeting at Essex County Council on November 14 will be looking at how the council and other agencies can be best mobilised to “reduce the destructive impacts of gang culture in Essex”.

The arrest of 22 people during the purge on so-called ‘county lines’ drug dealing networks uncovered £60,000 worth of drugs that included crack cocaine, heroin and 266 cannabis plants in Colchester and Clacton by Essex officers and members of the force’s specialist ‘Operation Raptor’ teams.

Detective Chief Inspector Rob Kirby, of the Serious Crime Directorate, said after the operation last month: “County line gangs are ruthless, exploiting the vulnerable members of our community, from those using drugs to young children who think they offer an attractive lifestyle.

“These gangs sell drugs within our communities without a second thought for the harm they cause.

“They also won’t think twice about using violence against rival dealers or those who cannot pay debts and forcing others to perpetrate that violence for them.

“We will continue to work with our partners to tackle these ruthless criminals.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter