Fears for young people being used by criminal gangs

PUBLISHED: 06:10 12 July 2018

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Young people in Cambridgeshire are being exploited by criminal gangs, which are using them as “drug mules” to bring illegal substances into the county.

There are fears vulnerable young people in Cambridgeshire are being used by criminal gangs to transport drugs, as youth workers call for more intervention before youths get caught up with the police and the criminal justice system.

Cambridgeshire County Council’s children and young people committee has been told that “criminalising” young people is often unnecessary, and that better results can be achieved if potentially vulnerable young people are helped earlier before they become involved in criminal activities.

Tom Watt, of the joint youth offending service, addressed the committee, saying a lot of work was going into protecting young people who may be at risk of being drawn into drug-dealing gangs.

Mr Watt said: “I think there has been a significant increase in young people being involved in drug dealing gangs in the county.

“We are trying to divert young people from getting into the criminal justice system and the police. There is a lot of work going on with gangs and drug related gangs. We have a lot of young people being used by gangs as drug mules coming up from London.”

According to a report which was brought before the committee: “Cambridgeshire and Peterborough youth offending service both have concerns about the increasing complexity of cases and the presence of county lines and gang profiles locally within the area.

“Both services have provided information through a survey that has been regionally collated and reported to the Youth Justice Board and Home Office. This report will also be shared with the regional and Cambridgeshire Young People’s Police Strategy (YPPS) groups to inform a collective partnership approach and response to the issue.

“The service will continue to ensure that staff across the partnership and trained in identifying young people vulnerable to county lines exploitation.

“They will also ensure young people are screened, assessed and referred to other agencies appropriately. It is a priority to identify effective intervention and partnership responses to reduce risk for this complex group.”

Mr Watt told the committee that a better route back into education and training could help “divert” young people form criminal gangs.

The committee heard that, of all the school-age young people currently in the criminal justice system in Cambridgeshire, 40 per cent were not in education, employment, or training (NEETs).

According to the report a bid could be made for a pilot scheme of a “secure school” in the county, where young people could get an education and proper training.

The report says the county council should “continue to develop rational for piloting a secure school in Cambridgeshire and if appropriate submit a formal bid following the expression of interest meetings with the Ministry of Justice. To engage the Board and partners in any formal bid and Secure School specification that is developed.”

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