A WEST Midlands peer-led charity is helping to support 48 vulnerable young people who police suspect of being exploited by drugs gangs after many of whom were reported missing, then rescued across the UK.
The Coventry-based St Giles Trust – whose Midlands services include helping people affected by County Lines – is working with West Midlands Police after officers rescued 48 young people from the region in the last few weeks during County Lines raids.
They were found as far afield as Bury, Merseyside, South Wales and Scotland and have now been referred to St Giles for on-going support, alongside their families.
Evan Jones, head of community services at St Giles, added: “Many young people tell us they see no way out of county lines. Our staff are living proof positive change is possible.
“Funding we’ve had from the Home Office for this project will enable us to support hundreds of young people who are currently beyond our reach and end the misery and suffering they and their families are experiencing.
“Whilst the consequences of county line involvement can be severe, there is light at the end of the tunnel if the right support is in place.”
The charity’s team includes workers who have previously been targeted by criminal gangs and have first-hand experience of what exploited young people are experiencing.
West Midlands Police’s lead for County Lines, Supt Rich Agar, said: “We’ve seen cases where vulnerable teenagers who’ve been reported missing have been found in suspicious circumstances many miles from the West Midlands.
“Recently children have been found in South Wales and other parts of the UK – and we believe they are being groomed to run drugs.
“Early intervention is really important to reach these children, offer them support and steer them away from crime and negative influences.
“Our St Giles partnership is doing just that. They have people with lived experience of what these young people are going through. They are well placed to guide these children to brighter futures – and help us gather vital intelligence against the drugs gangs.”
Last month during a national County Lines Week offensive (September 14-20) across the region dozens of raids resulted in almost 40 warrants and 64 arrests, the seizure of 225 wraps of cocaine and heroin, more than 1,000 cannabis plants, and weapons including imitation handguns.