• County Lines

Why such Fierce Loyalty?

It’s easy for us to understand the reasons so many young adults are drawn to the world of County Lines, when they are being given promises of friendship, power, money and status. It’s far more difficult to understand why those young adults remain fiercely loyal once those promises are quickly, and inevitably broken.

If your reason for joining a County Lines gang is because you need to make money; why continue risking your life and your freedom when you aren’t making any?

The answer to what I perceived as totally illogical behaviour, is actually quite simple. Money becomes rather insignificant when you are faced with the future possibility of having the same amount of power, status and respect your boss has.

You’re powerful enough to make people work for you. Your status means you can tell those people how hard to work. You’re so highly respected, those people will do whatever work you tell them to.

It broke my heart watching the realisation dawn on the faces of the teenagers, who had been lured into the criminal underworld of a County Lines gang, that they were never going to get money, let alone power, status or respect. The most heartbreaking part wasn’t the realisation dawning it was the time it took for that to happen. Believe me that lightbulb moment could sometimes take months and months.

The routine was the same for every new young recruit. They would be instructed to cover the night shift. Ensure they were ‘tooled up’ (carrying a weapon). £1,000 worth of class-a drugs would be shoved into their hand, and then they’d be dumped on their own while the other gang members went out to party. One of the gangs customers would be recruited to rob the young recruit on their first shift. The goal was to steal the pack of drugs and hand it over to the boss, in exchange for a few shots. Straight away the newbie would be in £1,000 debt, and forced to work for free until it was paid off. Then the cycle would start over.

I fully admit how pathetically naive I was because of the amount of time it took before I clocked on to the gang’s tactics, but from that point onwards, my welfare went out of the window. They were a minor, I was an adult, they came first end of. Standard.

I took any opportunity I could each time a young recruit was dumped in my home, to warn them about what was coming. Not one of them believed me. Not one.

I would tell each one in detail what laid ahead. I would state “you’ll be told to cover the night shift”, then five minutes later they’d be requested to cover the night shift by the boss. Then I would inform them that they would be given a ‘G Pack’ (a pack containing £1,000 worth of drugs).Five minutes later a gang member would roll up and hand over a pack. I’d graphically explain how they would be robbed of the pack. An hour into their shift they’d trudge through the door with a black eye in a thousand pounds worth of debt. They would get angry with me, in a patronising tone ask how the other gang members and the boss could possibly be involved when they were on the other side of the city at a party?

On one occasion, I even paid one of the newbie’s debts off…TWICE…over two consecutive nights. Then he would be robbed the next night. Nothing I said got through to these youngsters, and every single one would relay what I had told them to the boss. Consequently, I would get battered for being ‘out of line’. I had bruises over bruises. One of my eyes had a purple bruise, a yellow bruise, layers and layers of bruises where I’d been hit repeatedly in the same place each night! I began hallucinating from sleep deprivation. If a gang member was under the age of eighteen and ordered to cover a night shift, I would make myself stay awake so I could ring them throughout their entire shift every ten minutes to make sure they weren’t hurt.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t call the police each time I was introduced to a new recruit, then i’ll explain how pointless that was.

To begin with, I never had access to a phone without being supervised by one of the gang members. Secondly, I didn’t know names, dates of births, addresses…nothing. Finally, IF the police managed to make it to the address before the newbie got spooked and did a runner; invariably less than twenty four hours later- the youngster would be back after running away from wherever they were taken by the police.

So I developed my own approach. After being beaten black and blue for warning the newbie about what was in store- without any success- I decided to make a bad situation less bad. Let’s face it, it was never going to be good.

Over the course of seven days, I would go to great lengths to keep the newbie safe from harm whilst simultaneously gaining their trust. My goal was to find out their name, date of birth, whereabouts in the country they lived, a first name or surname of one of their parents or family members, and memorise something that could help to identify them. Like a birthmark or whatever.

On the rare occasions I was able to write my blog posts without being watched, I began frantically submitting every detail about the youngster to numerous charities and organisations online which I believed would be of use in a desperate effort to send them back to where they came from.

One of the new recruits was Eastern European. He was under the care of the social services because his mum who was his only family member, had been deported back to their home country, not permitted to take her child because she suffered from mental health issues.The recruit was fourteen, he had been missing for nine months after running away from the children’s home he lived at for the thirteenth time.

After two long weeks, numerous beatings from the gang members, and a lot of trust gained, I tracked down his mother and spoke to her on the phone. She tearfully told me how frantic she’d been over the past nine months. With her permission, I contacted the social services and explained the delicate situation.

“No you can’t just storm in with the police and whisk the newbie away. He loathed it at the children’s home you put him in. He would just run away again and I would be chopped into tiny pieces and dumped in a river. Yes his mother has acknowledged that she is unable to care for him. Why can’t you take responsibility for the fact that a Government Authority is failing a child so badly? Your solution is to lock him up in a high security children’s psychiatric hospital until he turns sixteen? My God I can now understand why society despises social services. Christ. Until you find a better solution, I’ll damn well privately foster this kid. Yes the mother has agreed. You are THAT bad.”

Negotiations went on for days. They threw all manner of threats at me for refusing to give my address to them. I didn’t give a toss. The priority was the happiness and welfare of this fourteen year old who didn’t realise he was being exploited by the gang who were his ‘fam’.

The social services demanded that I tell the youngster about the negotiations between them and his mother. I got as far as “contacting the social services” and he disappeared for two days before I managed to track him down again. He got spooked.

Eventually, the social services compromised and offered to transfer him to a different children’s home. I informed them that they were to give me every tiny minute detail about the home. I researched that children’s home in so much depth, I found myself scrutinising their accounts ten years previously. I was sorely disappointed. The staff were undertrained, aloof and distant from the children, the recreational activities were appalling and the standard of the nearest school was disgraceful.

I informed the mother and told the Social Services to find a better home that would suit the youngsters needs. In the short time I had got to know him, I knew he needed a huge amount of psychological support. He was smart as a whip, a good education was paramount. And he was constantly restless- almost manic. I knew that boredom would be dangerous.

The social services offered a placement in a different home- this one looked superb. But there was the almost impossible task of getting him there. There wasn’t a chance in hell he would go voluntarily. By this time the police had become involved. They were thrilled with the effort I had put into changing the life of this missing teenager for the better. The missing person’s charity, his mother, and eventually the social services showed their gratitude for my efforts.

It was agreed that the young recruit would be taken to his new home by the police. A plan had been put into place in advance so there was no chance of him getting spooked, or me being chopped into bits by the gang members.

The plan was a success, and over the two years at his new home, not once has he run away. He’s passed all his exams at school, engaged with all the different means of support offered to him, and has just started his own fashion design business.

Me? After the newbie was driven off to start his brand new life, I was accused of child grooming and was threatened with my name being listed on the child sex offenders register. No i’m not joking

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