Shocking new study reveals children as young as 12 are distributing Class A drugs in Ipswich
PUBLISHED: 00:38 04 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:42 07 December 2018
A new study has put the scourge of drug gangs in Ipswich under the spotlight - where children as young as 12 are recruited to distribute heroin and crack cocaine around the town.
The research identifies ‘county lines’, drug routes from metropolitan areas such as London, Birmingham and Liverpool, where class A drugs are brought into the town.
These drugs are then distributed by groups of local young people, vulnerable youths recruited by metropolitan gang members.
The study, commissioned by Suffolk County Council, says both groups appear to have ‘familial or friendship links’ with gang members in London.
It reads: “It is estimated by the agencies involved in face-to-face work with young people in these areas that the number of identifiable ‘gang members’ is 66, although the actual number may be considerably more.”
It continues: “The young people who deliver the drugs, like the gang-involved children and young people who deliver them in and around Ipswich, are typically aged between 12 and 17.”
Professor Pitts said there had been a change in the way drug markets operated in recent years due to the falling price of heroin and crack cocaine and the purity of these drugs rising, leading metropolitan drug gangs to branch out as inner-city markets become ‘saturated’.
He said: “What I think we have seen in Ipswich is something different again - that we have the county lines and younger people bringing them up but now you have a distribution network which draws upon very socially disadvantage local young people.
“There are risks of violence, there are risks of being drawn into forms of violence which would get them very, very long sentences because we are talking about grievous bodily harm, in a couple of cases we are talking about murder.”
The study reveals the recent upsurge in gang related violence is a result of a ‘perfect storm’ of shrinking youth services, erosion of job opportunities and lack of accommodation for young people in care.
It says young people are often ‘throwaway kids’ stuck in the care system who ‘find a home they are denied in the conventional world in a street gang’. Another shocking revelation was the number of girls and young women being exploited through gang culture.
Professor Pitts said: “They are involved as, sometimes, partners of relatively high status gang members, sometimes they are girls, they call them ‘links’, who are passed around, very young girls aged 12, 13 or 14.
“But also there is some evidence of commercial sexual exploitation and we have heard of groups of very young girls being trafficked back into London.
“Girls are also used to transport drugs, carry money, carry guns sometimes.”
What is being done to tackle the problem?
Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk Constabulary have pledged to work together to stamp out drug gang culture in Ipswich.
Sue Cook, the county council’s corporate director for children and adult services, set out three pillars of the multi-agency plan.
First is reducing vulnerability - helping people to build their resilience so they are less vulnerable to being exploited.
Second, creating an environment where violence cannot grow or thrive.
Third, enforcement – taking action against those who seek to exploit others and who orchestrate criminal activity.
The council has identified funding for a dedicated manager to lead the work, has put in place community development officers to work in the areas affected and secured extra funding for diversionary activity.
It is also hosting a number of engagement events to find out what communities think should be done to tackle the problem:
South East Area Committee
Wednesday September 6 2017, 7pm
Murrayside Learning Centre, Nacton Road, Ipswich IP3 9JL
Central Area Committee
Wednesday September 13, 7pm
Ipswich Community Church, Clarkson Street, Ipswich IP1 2JP
North West Area Committee
Thursday September 14, 7pm
St Raphael Club, St Raphael Court, Highfield Road, Ipswich IP1 6DA
North East Area Committee
Tuesday September 19, 7pm
St John’s Church Hall, Cauldwell Hall Road, Ipswich IP4 4QE
South West Area Committee
Thursday September 21, 6.30pm
Stoke Green Baptist Church, Halifax Road, Ipswich IP1 8RE