County Lines Is A National Emergency
21 March 2019, 12:14 | Updated: 21 March 2019, 12:16
MP John Woodcock's called on the government to take action
Barrow MP John Woodcock's says a national emergency should be declared by government in light of new figures showing a surge in victims of 'county lines' drug running.
The independent member of the House of Commons home affairs select committee warned that local child kidnappings were among a 36 per cent increase in potential victims of modern slavery and people trafficking in Britain last year revealed on Wednesday by the National Crime Agency.
The NCA blamed the rise on an explosion in the so-called county lines drug trade, which sees children as young as twelve forced by gangs to transport drugs long distances to users who place orders via mobile phone hot lines.
Senior officers have briefed the MP, who has led a national focus on county lines in parliament, on a number of incidences where local vulnerable young people have been detained against their will by drug dealers after being coerced into running drugs for them.
Mr Woodcock said: "These new national figures spotlight the huge rise in vulnerable people being used as drug mules by ruthless and violent county lines gangs. What is most worrying locally is that this explosion is clearly ensnaring our own young people - it is not simply a case of people being sent into Barrow from big cities to deliver drugs then leaving town.
"The National Crime Agency and our local force are working very hard to keep our communities and vulnerable people safe but they cannot hold back the tide alone - this vicious phenomenon should be treated as a national emergency by government.
"More funding for the police is essential but they are right at the end of the line. We need a coordinated push including education, health and local services so we can reduce the likelihood that children will fall into these situations and - most importantly - reduce demand for the drugs that are blighting our communities."
The phenomenon of county lines has resulted in increased access to potent, and oftentimes deadly, drugs in parts of the country hitherto relatively unaffected. Between December 2017 and April 2018 the town of Barrow-in-Furness, which Mr Woodcock represents, experienced 12 drugs-related deaths, way above the national average.
Knife crime is also up in Cumbria, prompting a knife crime surrender push by police this month that saw more than 280 blades handed in by members of the public.
The National Crime Agency said the 36 per cent increase in potential modern slavery and trafficking victims identified by the Home Office brings the total instances of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK to almost 7,000 cases in 2018.
NCA deputy director Roy McComb credited the "greater awareness, understanding and reporting of modern slavery", which includes numerous awareness campaigns on county lines, for the increase in referrals to the system the government uses to identify victims - known as the national referral mechanism.