Home Secretary vows to 'protect vulnerable youngsters' from county lines in Mansfield visit

Tackling knife crime and offering support to vulnerable young people involved in county lines drug crimes has been placed as a priority by the Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Speaking during a visit to Mansfield, Ms Patel said the Conservatives want to place more emphasis on "supporting and protecting" vulnerable youngsters who are being "prayed upon" by organised gangs.

Home Secretary Priti Patel with Ben Bradley in Mansfield.

Home Secretary Priti Patel with Ben Bradley in Mansfield.

She says plans have been put in place to safeguard children in schools and to "target communities" where county lines crimes are known.

As Home Secretary she identified that criminality comes "in many forms" in relation to county lines, but said that it is a "matter for society" to ensure youngsters have "opportunities" to get out of organised crime and be protected by the state.

She said: "When you think about the dreadful phenomena of county lines, it is right around the country, and this is why we are seeing more organised crime on our streets.

"It is why we see more young people, who are vulnerable, prayed upon and exploited by some of these criminal gangs.

Home Secretary Priti Patel in Mansfield.

Home Secretary Priti Patel in Mansfield.

"On policing we are doing more to empower police officers. We want them to use their powers, such as stop and search, so when someone is participating in criminality we can get them off the streets and get their weapons off the streets.

"And for our young people, it is a matter for society to invest into youth community provision. We have got funds going straight into youth centres, new outreach schemes for young people.

"Young people cannot be left to themselves to be prayed upon, so we want to target communities where we know these young people are being targeted and to protect them.

"We are going to close down the spaces for criminal individuals to operate in, and to put in new opportunities for young people.

Home Secretary Priti Patel talking with your Chad reporter Andrew Topping in Mansfield.

Home Secretary Priti Patel talking with your Chad reporter Andrew Topping in Mansfield.

"We have got a public health duty, which means local councils, local schools and headteachers and the NHS working together to make sure young people are safeguarded and not leched upon by criminals."

But the Local Government Association has warned that the rapid increase in child referrals for modern slavery in county lines is adding to the already huge pressure on the services they provide for vulnerable children.

In one year alone, from 2017 to 2018, the number of child referrals grew 67 per cent, and 92 per cent of all referrals from councils related to children.

At the same time, increases in adult victims are putting pressure on the already stretched adult social care system, the LGA says.

Simon Blackburn, who chairs the LGA's safer and stronger communities board, said: "This despicable crime is a rising threat to our communities and can destroy the lives of vulnerable people working in fear of physical violence from ruthless gangmasters.

"The spiralling rate of council referrals, especially relating to children who face specific risks through county lines drug trafficking or child sexual exploitation, is having a huge impact on overstretched council services, particularly children's services.

"Extra funding next year will help but government needs to ensure councils have adequate long-term resources to tackle this abuse and support its victims, as well as creating a sustainable NRM [national referral mechanism] system in the long term."