‘We must all be alert to the danger signs’ - county lines meeting for parents
- Credit: DANNY HEWITT
Parents have been sent a letter inviting them to attend West Suffolk College on Monday evening so families have the information they need and the opportunity to ask questions.
County lines gangs establish markets in rural towns and will exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money.
The issue was brought to the attention of many in Bury St Edmunds due to the trial of 17-year-old Kieran Hayward, from the town, who was convicted of murdering Ipswich man Daniel Saunders, 32, in a drug related "revenge attack".
In the letter to parents, Colin Shaw, vice principal of West Suffolk College, said they aim to "help protect the young people in Bury from the increasing risks they face and to take a common approach to this problem".
The schools and colleges involved in the meeting are: West Suffolk College, Culford School, County Upper School, St Benedict's Catholic School, King Edward VI School, Sybil Andrews Academy, Priory School, Abbeygate Sixth Form College, The Albany and Thurston Community College.
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Former Bury St Edmunds headteacher Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "We applaud the robust action being taken by school and college leaders in Bury.
"It is a very good idea to engage directly with families in this way. The stark reality is that young people can all-too-easily fall prey to county lines and we must all be alert to the danger signs.
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"As a society, we must do more to combat this vile trade. This means we must invest more in the infrastructure of support for vulnerable young people which is provided by local authorities, schools and colleges, and we have to better resource our police forces."
Mr Barton added "the grim phenomenon" of county lines is "sadly a national problem", and many schools, colleges, police forces and other agencies across the country will be contending with this issue.
In the letter, Mr Shaw said the education providers have been working closely together with the police, the local education authority and other agencies and have also sought advice from other parts of the country.
He said: "Prevention is always better than cure and we intend to ensure that families have the information that they need to understand the current position and how best to support young people.
"We recognise that it can be difficult to accept that areas like Bury are affected by these issues and that acceptance is key to beginning to tackle the problem."
He said they are looking to take a "firm, consistent line" in situations where drug activity is brought into their schools and colleges while also ensuring that those involved receive "appropriate support and guidance".
Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore, who also praised the schools for the meeting, said while there had been notable successes in tackling county lines, it was still "one of the biggest challenges we face in Suffolk".
"We are in this for the long haul to deal with it," he said. "A multi-agency approach is the solution and longer term it's about prevention - activities [for young people] and prospects for children as they get older."
Superintendent Kim Warner, policing commander for West Suffolk at Suffolk police, said "if drug dealers think Suffolk is a safe haven - they are wrong."
"We are working tirelessly to disrupt, arrest, and prosecute those people that choose to target Suffolk."
A spokesperson at Suffolk County Council, said: "With our partners we take the safety of our children very seriously and this talk on November 11 at West Suffolk College is about wider prevention work to highlight the issue.
"We endeavour to support parents, carers and young people in recognising the signs of county lines, knowing where to go for help and how to report any concerns."