Essex young people tell of the dangers of County Lines
The authentic, lived experiences of Essex young people are the narrative for a new hard-hitting short film which wants to educate the public on the dangers of County Lines drug gangs.
Filmed on location across greater Essex, the film tells how drug deals are seen on the way home from school and how young people are used to move drugs around the county, exploited, coerced and groomed by gangs. One young man tells how his involvement led to a prison sentence and a bleak looking future. It also shows how young people try to support their friends when they are in trouble and how having positive interests, such as sport, can help avoid recruitment by County Lines gangs.
While the visuals are dramatized, the voiceover is the unedited, unfiltered words, language and stories of Essex young people, some of whom feature in the film.
Commissioned by the Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit (VVU), the films were initially used as a social media campaign to help young people develop an understanding of exploitation, highlighting the personal risks, and providing skills and tactics to recognise and avoid risky situations. If young people understand how the gangs operate, they have the knowledge to spot the signs and walk away.
Now, following powerful feedback from adults who have seen the films, the VVU is working with partners to take an Essex wide approach to promote the films to a wider, older, audience through the website www.essexcountylines.co.uk
County Lines gangs do operate in Essex but by working with our public sector partners we can pool resources to try and break down these lines. Essex Police have invested heavily in their capacity to target and enforce serious crime, drugs and violence, and together with the VVU are also protecting and safeguarding vulnerable people who get involved in such criminality.
Raising awareness of County Lines, among communities and individuals who may not be aware of this gang activity, has been a long term commitment of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex and partners across greater Essex, with safe and secure communities placed at the heart of their agendas.
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex and Chair of the Violence and Vulnerability Round Table, said: “The Violence and Vulnerability Partnership is working together to help keep people at risk of exploitation by gangs to stay safe. At the same time we are continuing to crack down on the hardened criminals who prey on them, targeting individuals and entire gangs that operate in Essex. We are taking a proactive, partnership approach, focussing on keeping young people free from crime and staging early interventions to help them to live a successful life away from crime.
“This campaign is one part of that approach. County Lines gangs befriend and groom young people, they make them believe they are all friends, but instead the gangs use them to carry drugs and cash around the county, trapping them in a world of debt and exploitation that can be difficult to escape.
“We have taken the real experiences of our Essex young people, their words and their stories, to produce a film at www.essexcountylines.co.uk which explains the dangers of these predatory drug gangs.”
Assistant Chief Constable Andy Prophet, of Essex Police, said: “Hearing the real-life experiences of young people in Essex is sobering but also incredibly important. Our officers work with young people affected by gangs every day, steering them away from lifestyles that put them in danger, and putting the criminals who groom and exploit them behind bars.
“We can’t do this alone, which is why we work closely with other organisations and the community to address the emotional, economic and social issues that gangs exploit in order to operate. I want to thank the young people who took part in these films, for being brave in giving accounts of what life is like for them, and for giving a voice to others who may be too frightened to speak up.
“The important thing to know is there are people who can help you and please don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Cllr Martin Terry, cabinet member for public protection, Southend on Sea Borough Council said: “We urge everyone to watch this video and understand how children are being groomed by criminals. We are seeing young children, and children from a wide range of backgrounds and personal circumstances being groomed into moving drugs and money around and in and out of our borough. If you are concerned about a child you know, or if you feel something is not right, please follow it up by reporting your concerns to Essex Police, or in Southend by emailing [email protected].”
Cllr Louise McKinlay, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Community, Equality, Partnerships and Performance, Essex County Council said: “Keeping our communities safe is a priority for Essex County Council and I believe that in the case of County Lines knowledge is power. The more you are aware of County Lines and the lengths drug gangs will go to recruit young people, the more you can protect those you love.”
Cllr Rob Gledhill, Leader of Thurrock Council and Cabinet Member for Public Protection said: “These criminal gangs destroy the lives’ of the young people they groom and exploit as part of their illicit activities. And those users which use county lines operation to source their drugs are feeding this abuse.
“This campaign highlights the dangers our children can face and the simple but effective tactics these gangs use to trap them in a life of crime. By giving families and friends the information they need to spot the signs of danger it may well prevent young people from falling into a life of gang crime and general criminality. Starving gangs of new members is an effective tool to bring an end to this highly organised criminal activity.”
Essex is a safe place to live but we need to be alert to the risks our young people and our communities can face, By working in partnership and in collaboration we can affect a systemic change, for the benefit of our communities, our county and across borders.
Find out more at www.essexcountylines.co.uk