0851 GMT April 21, 2018
This could mean that ‘potentially thousands’ of young people are being exploited, the Metropolitan Police said, and they are often targeted on social media such as Instagram and Snapchat, sometimes with the promise of a relationship or money.
It comes as Fesal Mahamud, 20, and Mahad Yusuf, 21, from the Enfield-based DA (Dem Africans) gang became the first ’county lines’ offenders convicted under modern slavery law. They were jailed for 10 and nine years respectively.
Their ‘vulnerable’ 19-year-old victim was lured into meeting them through social media, but what she thought was going to be a date saw her driven to a drugs den in Swansea.
Once there they smashed up her phone and told her she ‘belonged’ to them, before forcing her to conceal heroin and crack cocaine on her body and help sell the drugs.
The girl, who had been reported missing from her north London home by her mother, was beaten during the ‘horrendous’ five days she was held captive before police stormed the property on May 25 last year.
Also present were two other young people — a 15-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy who was found to have drugs hidden inside him.
The groups work by setting up a drugs hotlines to a mobile phone at their city base. When they receive an order they use their satellite bases in rural or coastal towns — where they force vulnerable people to work for them using ‘intimidation and violence’ — to deliver the illegal substances.
Mahamud was based in London, running the line, whilst Yusuf was the ‘enforcer’ in Swansea running the drugs den and administering the beatings to keep the young people in check.
Detective Inspector Rick Sewart, who led the investigation, said: "They use social media to target young, vulnerable people. They use Instagram, Snapchat and other similar social media platforms, often looking for new platforms and new apps."
As the men were sentenced Deputy Assistant Commissioner Duncan Ball, from the Metropolitan Police, revealed that they had already identified ‘900 plus lines’ across the UK and said that this number was a ‘conservative estimate’.
Ball said that because the selling operation could be run hundred of miles away from the base of those responsible, allowing them to distance themselves from the crime.
Detective Superintendent Tim Champion, Lead Responsible Officer for the Met's County Lines Investigations, added: "They specifically use vulnerable or young people to do their dirty work for the increase of profit."
He said that children as young as 12 had been involved in the cases that they had uncovered and as well as using social media the gangs would sometimes hang around outside schools to try and recruit.
The police hope that by targeting the organizers using modern slavery laws they will realize: "We have to stop using kids".
DS Champion added: "The violence also comes when other gangs or groups go to the same place and the supply outweighs the demand causing fights over a small market."