By Local Democracy Reporter
YOUNG people being placed in unregulated accommodation in Thurrock from London cannot be adequately protected from drugs gangs running county lines in the county, councillors have been told.
The incidences and profile of drug gangs, knife crime and county lines operations is increasing in Essex.
Last year 1,000 people were arrested in connection with county lines, with Essex Police admitting it not making a discernible difference.
Of the 2,000 lines operating nationally, it is so named due a single telephone used to order drugs – 134 are in Essex.
County line networks are having a massive impact on rural counties.
Vulnerable children and adults are being recruited in large cities to transport cash and drugs all over the country.
This keeps the true criminals behind it detached from the act and less likely to be detected or caught.
These gangs often set up a base in a rural area for a short time, taking over the home of a vulnerable person, also known as ‘cuckooing’.
They then use adults and children to act as drug runners.
Tanya Gillett, head of the Youth Offending Service in Essex, which at any one times works with about 450 young people, of which 60 per cent are connected to county lines, told Essex county councillors today (February 14) that many young people are lost in the system.
She added that there is a pressing need to share intelligence on use of supported independent accommodation (SIA’s), which she said is currently an area of concern.
At least 16 plus young people in Essex known to the YOS are placed in these units, but the actual number may be much higher.
She said: “National YOSs are required to take on criminal court orders, so we might have young people looked after by another authority but they are placed in this authority, subject to a care order but the YOS takes over the criminal court order.
“So we have an increasing population of young people who have their infrastructure supported in other parts and yet we are trying to manage the criminal order here.”
She added: “We have supported independent accommodation units which are units for young people 16 upwards.
“They are unregulated by Ofsted and unregulated by local authorities. We have a number of those in Essex where London boroughs and other authorities are placing in another authority. That raises concerns for us because we have no control over who comes in and out.
“And sometimes we don’t know they are there.
“We are in some difficulty because although we in Essex do not place young people there, other authorities take a different view.”
She said that education and identifying young people at risk of being targeted was key.
She said: “Judging outcomes around the numbers of exclusion does not give an indication on the number of people not in education. There are two top priorities in the YOS, one is education, the other is restorative justice.”
A total of £500,000 has been earmarked by Essex County Council to spent on helping Essex Police tackle county lines, to protect young people who may be at risk from drugs gangs.
Assistant chief constable Andy Prophet saidthere needs to be a whole system approach coordinated at the top level.
He said: “This is not just a single drug, it’s not just cannabis it’s not just heroin. There is an element of middle class use of cocaine, if we are going to generalise in that sense, which can be seen by some as this is okay.
“But it supports the industry of selling drugs and therefore is part of the problem.
“Without ever wanting to diminish that the criminal use of drugs encourages the criminal supply of drugs, at the acute end the biggest risks that I see from my profession do disproportionally impact the young and the vulnerable.”