A 16-year-old boy has been arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of class A drugs after police switch to proactive patrols in and around Swindon.

The patrols saw police officers and members of the special constabulary target areas in the town which have become dealing hot spots, in a bid to identify offenders, as well as any children and young people being exploited, or at risk of exploitation by criminal gangs.

In total, approximately £600 of crack and heroin was seized, along with £300 cash.

One 16-year-old boy from Swindon was arrested in Mannington Park and has since been released under investigation while enquiries continue.

A number of other young people at risk of exploitation were identified during the patrols and we have worked alongside partner agencies to ensure the necessary safeguarding measures are put in place to protect them in the future.

Sergeant Georgina Green, of the Dedicated Crime Team, said: “This was a successful afternoon – Swindon has seen a surge in the use of child ‘runners’ being exploited by drug gangs supplying crack and heroin, also known as County Line networks in the last five months.

“A lot of the parents we’ve spoken to have been completely shocked to be told by the police that their children have been dealing drugs on behalf of these out of town drug networks – they had no idea of their children’s involvement.”

Children are persuaded to ‘work’ on behalf of these gangs by being told they will receive money, expensive clothes or trainers as payment. The dealers and the children they exploit are often found operating in public play parks where there are young and impressionable children and families going about their daily business.

“Using children to deal drugs is totally unacceptable,” said Sgt Green. “It is immoral and inexcusable. Exploiting children takes away their innocence and places them in great danger. This behaviour will not be tolerated in our community and we will deal with those responsible robustly.”

Children who become involved in ‘running’ for drugs gangs based out of town in cities such as London, are more likely to become victims of crime due to interactions with class A drug users or rival dealers trying to compete for markets and territory. Those involved run the risk of being assaulted and having drugs and cash taken from them. The young people then find themselves in a situation where they are in debt with the network they are working for and in a position where they have no choice other than to work to ‘pay’ this debt off. Violence and intimidation will often follow, along with threats to friends and family members.

Sgt Green added: “The attraction of a ‘wage’ or expensive trainers and designer clothing may appeal to the children, enticing them to participate at the beginning, however the reality is the risk of serious assault, further exploitation with no way out and a criminal record to carry for the rest of their life, making any future career opportunities virtually impossible. The children will often be working extended and late hours, being directed via phone by a gang based out of the town.

“They will be required to deal drugs to users in volatile environments, often late at night and often in secluded and dangerous locations. The risks that children caught up in this exploitation face are stark.”

Signs that your child may be exploited by criminal gangs include:
– Becoming distant and introverted
– Unable to explain long periods away from the house
– Absent from school
– New and expensive clothing, trainers or phones.
– Unexplained cash
– Episodes of being missing
– Phone continuously ringing/text alerts.

“We will continue to work effectively with all agencies to safeguard these children and communicate with their parents and carers to divert them away from this exploitation and the risks it brings,” said Sgt Green.

“Although the primary focus of the police and our partners will be to safeguard children being exploited, if children continue to deal drugs then they also have to realise the consequences, such as a criminal record.”

If you have concerns that your child is being exploited, please take action and report it. Call police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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