A disturbing investigation by London radio station LBC has found children as young as eight are being exploited by county lines gangs to deal drugs, move weapons and hide cash.

It also reveals that gangs are turning to social media to identify young people, coerce them into sending explicit images and then blackmailing them into dealing. Girls are being passed around gang members for sex as rewards for dealing, and violence is intensifying with male victims being raped to spread fear.

County Lines drug gangs have been operating for decades but the pandemic has forced them to change their tactics. Traditionally these organised crime groups (OCGs) will recruit vulnerable young people by offering them free drugs or things like bikes and clothes, then tell them they have a debt that has to be paid. This ‘debt bondage’ is backed up with threats of violence and leads to the victims then feeling they have no choice but to work for the gang.

Once recruited, they will be sent via trains to smaller towns and made to deal drugs. But, with trains much quieter during the pandemic, the gangs have turned to social media to find their victims, in many cases coercing them into sending explicit pictures and then blackmailing them.

Dr Grace Robinson, an expert in County Lines gangs at Nottingham University, exclusively told LBC News: “We know platforms like Snapchat and Instagram are used for the facilitation of drugs supply.

To read more on this along with accompanying videos, visit the LBC website – www.lbc.co.uk

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