Churches in Essex ‘very keen’ to help fight county lines

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Religious groups could be approached to help with the scourge of county lines drug gangs.

The Bishop of Colchester, evangelist groups and the Salvation Army have all been named as potential contributors aside a list of regular champions helping tackle county lines – in which youngsters are used to transfer and sell drugs from main centres, particularly London.

Essex County Council’s task and finish group working on drug gangs, knife crime and county lines is expected to bring a report back to council in January with a series of recommendations.

The group, chaired by Cllr Carlo Guglielmi  has met five times to hold discussions with contributors including the chief executive of Tendring District Council, Duncan Evans, National Crime Agency co-ordinator for county lines, Jane Gardner, Deputy Police, Fire, Crime Commissioner, Tanya Gillett, head of youth offending at the county council and Councillor Ray Gooding, cabinet member for education at the council.

But religious groups have offered their services to contribute on the work in early prevention and education alongside councils, health bodies and voluntary bodies.

Cllr Guglielmi said at Essex County Council on Thursday, November 15: “I am very conscious that we shouldn’t be forcing religion down people’s throats but it is an area they (religious groups) are very keen to work with and one we shall explore in depth.”

He added: “It is nice to know those religious organisations are very keen and the Salvation Army are very hands on.”

Essex is one of the top destinations for young drug dealers involved in London county lines gangs.

A  report from the London mayoral City Hall, which details the reach and type of county lines activity going on in the capital, shows that between January 2018 and April 2019, 121 individuals referred to the City Hall-funded rescue and response programme had links to Essex.

That is more than any other county in the UK besides Norfolk where there were 416 links and Hampshire with 369.

The programme aims to provide support to young people in London involved in county lines gangs.

County lines refers to gangs forcing vulnerable individuals – including children as young as 11 – into trafficking drugs from large cities to rural areas.

A 2018 National Crime Agency report found that the greatest number of county lines originate in London, followed by the West Midlands and Merseyside police force areas.

According to the report, the criminal networks exploit certain circumstances in a young person’s life, including poverty, family breakdown, exclusion from school, drug addiction and learning difficulties.

Several Essex towns were among those with large numbers of links to county lines individuals –  43 individuals were linked to Colchester, 36 to Southend-on-Sea, and 27 linked to Clacton-on-Sea.

First published 22.11.19: https://www.eppingforestguardian.co.uk/news/18054788.churches-essex-very-keen-help-fight-county-lines/

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