A police boss fears children in care are being recruited by ruthless county lines drugs gangs.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones has been told the covid lockdown restrictions have forced crime overlords to change their “business model”.
Instead of bringing in young runners from Merseyside and Manchester, it’s believed the gangs are now grooming vulnerable youngsters in care home to sell heroin and cocaine in North Wales.
That’s the verdict of the specialist crime and justice organisation, Crest Advisory, that’s been commissioned by Mr Jones to investigate the evil county lines trade.
Tackling the county lines gangs is a major priority for Arfon Jones, a former police inspector and advocate of drugs law reform.
He said: “The organised crime business model will adapt to circumstances if they think they can make more money.
“With the roads being quieter, less people on the trains, it’s been easier for the police, British Transport Police, ourselves, to detect people who are coming to north Wales to deal drugs.
“So now what they’re doing is trying to recruit children and young people locally and I’m particularly concerned about people in care being recruited to deal county lines.
“One of the biggest issues for me is the return of home interviews after children have gone missing – it’s very important that these are carried out
“This used to be funded for the whole of North Wales by the Welsh Government and since that ended we have tried to get local authorities to join with us to continue this practice but instead they have gone their own way.
“I am now seriously considering commissioning a team of people to carry out these interviews with children who have gone missing in the general population and from care homes.
Crest Advisory conducted interviews with officers from North Wales Police and Merseyside Police, as well as other agencies as part of a wider project looking at county lines and looked-after children.
Joe Calouri, head of policy at Crest, said: “Because of the use of technology and apps and social media, it’s very easy for gangs to recruit children without even meeting them by having peers recruit them and controlling them via social network apps.
“We’re very critical of central government in our conclusions and recommend that they bring in a national strategy involving multiple government departments.
“In North Wales we have found we were unable to engage with local authorities at all in our research and we haven’t found any evidence of them taking any action or committing any resources.
“They have had an opportunity to get ahead of the curve but instead they’ve had their heads in the sand.
“People in North Wales should be very concerned about the changing threat of county lines.
“Over time we’ve seen elsewhere in the country how, as gangs start to recruit more locally, and rely less on trafficking children over borders, over time there’s a high level of violence, there’s post code-style gangs that form and it often results in high level violence and even murder in some situations.
“North Wales have the opportunity to be ahead of the curve in preventing this from happening, but to do that they need to recognise the threat of county lines locally and take action, rather than treating it as a problem that’s come in from outside from Merseyside.”