Violent gangs forcing kids to rob takeaway drivers to help them push drugs

Violent county lines gangs are forcing kids to rob Deliveroo drivers of their branded clothing so they can pose as takeaway drivers while pushing drugs.

The criminals, who manage their networks using mobile phone hotlines, are forcing as many as 10,000 kids – some as young as six – to deliver ­cocaine and heroin across the UK.

Victims are also being urged to carry firearms for the criminals. They are ­controlled through increasingly brutal methods of torture and sexual abuse – including gang rapes that are filmed to be used for blackmail.

The harrowing details were revealed by specialists and charities helping victims deal with their exploitation.

Rhiannon Sawyer, of the Children’s Society, said: “The gangs are stealing delivery drivers’ bags and branding so when they are going around on mopeds they look like Deliveroo drivers.

“It’s not just the children, it will be adults or young adults. That’s come from raids of properties of victims and police found the branded items like clothes and boxes there. We’ve even heard of young people being told to get jobs as takeaway drivers.”

Deliveroo said: “Our riders have the right to deliver amazing meals without fear of violence or intimidation.

“We work closely with the police and authorities to tackle crime if it is ever aimed at Deliveroo riders.”

Our revelations come days after Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield revealed more than 27,000 kids are feared to be in thrall to gangs in cities including Preston, Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle.

Ms Sawyer said of the grooming and abuse of victims: “We’ve seen new methods of torture used. Children are having their fingernails pulled out.

“A lot of the boys show signs of PTSD because they’ve witnessed rapes and stabbings or been raped or sexually assaulted. There’s a lot of sexual ­violence. Children are also forced to carry the drugs inside them.

“Young people have told us that when they get to wherever it was, they are pushed on a bed and the drugs are ­taken out. That’s child sex abuse. Sometimes that’s filmed and used to threaten them or blackmail them.”

Joanna Hunt, area manager for Children and Young People’s Services in Greater Manchester, claimed some youngsters carry firearms for gangs that track them on apps like Snapchat.

There are also ­reports of gangs staging “instrumental violence” – an attack in one area that diverts police so they can operate easily elsewhere. Children’s Commissioner Ms Longfield claims authorities have “turned a blind eye” – ­comparing the crisis to sex grooming scandals.

Writing in the Sunday People, she blasts the response and says tackling the blight “must be a ­national priority”.

The gangs use young people or vulnerable adults to carry and sell drugs over county ­boundaries using dedicated mobile hotlines. Police say the number of separate ­operations almost trebled to 2,000 in the past year. Just over a week ago, Cleveland Police revealed a six-year-old had been tricked into dealing drugs on Teesside.

Teens of 15 to 17 now make up the bulk of the criminals involved – with some raking in £5,000-a-day.

A crackdown by the National Crime Agency resulted in 600 children and 400 ­vulnerable adults being rescued in a week.

Former gang member Junior Smart, 43, founder of the St Giles Trust-run SOS Gangs Project, said a ­“forgotten generation” of children were being swept up. He was groomed at 18 and helped recruit others. He saw himself as being untouchable but was arrested in his mid-20s for carrying several ­kilograms of crack-cocaine, getting 12 years.

Now he accuses web ­companies of fuelling the crisis by not doing enough to stop the gangs ­grooming youngsters.

He said: “There’s a normalisation of ­violence among young people and that’s ­perpetuated by social media. Young people have no positive messages about getting support.

“Children being exploited are getting younger and younger.”

He said the gangs “want ­children beyond the age of criminality. It makes it difficult for law enforcement. There’s a level of coercion and the reality is they don’t know they’re being exploited. Once they are inside they are trapped. If they owe debts, there are reprisals. If they are ‘skimming’ profits, there are reprisals.

“If they are seen as a grass, there are reprisals.

“It’s all circulated on social media. There are thousands of young ­people in gangs and I believe numbers are underestimated.”

Ms Hunt added: “The things happening to young people in London are very similar to those happening in the North.

“In areas like Wythenshawe, kids are being tested to see how far they will go to commit low-level crimes.

“It starts with throwing stones, then stealing a bike, then doing runs for gangs. In places like north Manchester the kids are being used to carry ­firearms. That’s more rife here. There’s an awful lot of violent crime in these areas where there’s deprivation.

“This isn’t just naughty kids, we are talking about a slick ­operation from gangs and ­organised crime groups.

“Kids are tracked with phone apps and are too ­frightened to get help ­because they’re scared their leader is talking to us. Leaders even make them prove they have a dentist appointment, that’s the level of control.”

Chief Inspector Kirsty Simcox, of Greater Manchester Police, added: “This form of criminal ­exploitation is an ­abhorrent crime.

“We continue to work closely with our partners to put a stop to criminal gangs grooming children and vulnerable adults and reassure anybody who feels trapped that there is a way out.”

The Met Police added: “County lines is a national challenge. We use Modern Slavery Act legislation to prosecute the organisers.”

Nikki Holland, director of ­investigations at the NCA, insisted tackling the blight be “a top priority”.
Shadow policing minister Lousie Haigh said: “The latest figures are chilling. Cuts to police, as well as children’s and youth services, have left them unable to tackle the threat.

“It’s time the Prime Minister lived up to her promises and gave the police the resources they need to tackle this scourge and provide ­vulnerable victims, ­especially children, proper mental health support.”

Parents who fear their children have been criminally exploited should visit

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