Children 'as young as 11 exploited by gangs to traffic drugs from London,' warns charity worker

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Children living in extreme poverty in the capital are being exploited to run class-A drugs to towns around Britain, a filmmaker and charity worker warned today.

Henry Blake says gangs are targeting the poor and vulnerable with promises that they can earn up to a £1,000 a day.

His experience in mentoring young people in east London has inspired a movie on criminals who use “couriers” as young as 11 to take drugs to small towns and seaside resorts.

The film director, who works for  London-based charities for disadvantaged children, has made a hard-hitting short, County Lines. It focuses on a 14-year-old who is used by a London gang to run narcotics to a coastal town.

The boy is played by Kai Francis Lewis, 16, who starred with Idris Elba  in the Bafta-nominated 2014 movie Second Coming. County Lines — now being made into a feature-length film — was inspired by a mentoring scheme Mr Blake helped run at a pupil referral unit in east London. “Nearly all of the boys had been or still were engaged in running drugs around Britain,” he said.

Director of Country Lines Henry Blake

“Sometimes they would disappear for two weeks at a time. No one knew where they were and suddenly they would come back.”

One told Mr Blake he was robbed while taking substances from London to Aberdeen: “This boy had been sent there by a gang in London. His drugs and money were taken and he was stranded there [Aberdeen] for three weeks.”

Another boy appeared never to change his clothes and one lived in squalor with his mother and four siblings. “When I first met the family they had one loaf of white bread in the kitchen.

“That was it. My job was to educate and mentor this young man and I was asked if I could get him lunch.

“Our first time we had lunch together, he had never set foot in a Sainsbury’s and I took him to the sandwich aisle. He stared at it in awe not knowing what to do.

“I do not think people understand the level of poverty some of these boys are living in. Boys like this are targeted and recruited by gangs and told they will earn anything up to a grand a day.

“This is a lie. They are lucky if they walk away with £200 to £300 when so young in the game — and some are as young as 11.

“The recruiters know this. They understand poverty themselves so can tap into a child and their needs relatively easily.” A National Crime Agency report says the gangs can make £2,000 a day from each operation.

Mr Blake said the children are often trapped in “debt bondage” and live in fear of violence if they cannot pay back lost or stolen drugs: “There were boys who had to be escorted in minicabs to and from home and school because of fears over their safety.”

Many displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder because of the severe nature of physical and sexual violence they were exposed to while they were “out on a line”.

County Lines — so-called because dealers use a mobile phone line to run drugs to provincial towns — also features Montserrat Roig de Puig, who appeared in The Other Boleyn Girl, and Marcus Rutherford.

Mr Blake said he hoped his film would highlight the extent and severity of the problem: “There is a certain attitude that this is a just a working-class problem but we are talking about children, and no matter who they are or where they come from, they are still children.

“The trauma they experience stays with them for years.

 “I hope people will be haunted and moved by what they see.”

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