HUNDREDS of young Londoners have been diverted away from the dangers of County Lines gangs by an intervention scheme set up by mayor Sadiq Khan, according to a report published on Wednesday (27).
The Rescue and Response report, by Brent Council on the impact of the £5.6 million scheme, revealed that nine out of ten young people have reduced or completely stopped involvement in County Lines, it added.
Under the scheme, more than 1,000 professionals are now specially trained to work with vulnerable young women and girls.
County Lines is the name given to drug dealing where phone lines are used to move and supply drugs, usually from cities into smaller towns and rural areas across the whole country.
The initiative was started three years ago and more than 450 young people were engaged with the support provided and benefited from positive opportunities such as training, education and support for employment.
Khan said: “I am determined to ensure we provide an escape route for young Londoners who feel trapped and I’m pleased the Rescue and Response programme is working to break the chain of criminality that holds some of our most vulnerable young men, women, girls and boys hostage.
“I know we’re only scratching the surface of a major national issue that is still driving violence in London and across the country, but that is why I will continue to invest record amounts in programmes that intervene in the key moments in a person’s life, to divert them away from crime and build a safer London for everyone.”
Among those helped by the programme is a young woman who was identified to be at high risk from exploitation and from harm and abuse from her own family and faced multiple criminal charges linked to County Lines activity. She was provided with a support network and a safe space to understand her needs and protect her from abuse and exploitation, helped through her legal proceedings and set positive goals to focus on going forward, the statement said.
A 17-year-old boy was intercepted by the programme while in hospital for a for a severe hand injury, directly linked to being exploited by County Lines activity. He was provided with temporary housing and a support network to ensure he could return to his local borough.
Last month the Mayor warned that the cost of living crisis could jeopardise the progress that’s been made in tackling violent crime.
According to the statement, the work of the programme sits alongside the enforcement action being carried out by the Met police to dismantle county lines and target drug gangs. From April 2021 to March 2022, teams across the Met closed more than 560 lines and made almost 450 arrests for offences including drug supply, modern slavery and weapons.
Head of Practise at Safer London, Alison Campbell, said: “It’s important to understand that young Londoners affected by County Lines have been exploited, groomed and abused. They have experienced traumatic events many of us couldn’t comprehend. Furthermore, the impact of County Lines is far-reaching, affecting entire families and communities. Rescue and Response have allowed Safer London to provide direct support to young Londoners impacted by County Lines.
“Our Rescue and Response team work collaboratively with young Londoners, building strong trusting relationships, so they can work through their trauma, improve their safety and move onto the positive futures they deserve. We hope, with the support from the Mayor of London, we can continue to support those affected for as long as the threat of County Lines persists.”
Founder and Chief Executive of Abianda agency, Abi Billinghurst, said: “We are so pleased that we are entering into a fifth year of support from MOPAC for the Rescue and Response service. Abianda’s work in the partnership has shone a much needed light on the experiences of young women and girls, but we know they are still very much a hidden group and are not being identified sufficiently.”