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Children across Greater Manchester have watched a compelling play warning them about criminal exploitation from county lines organised crime groups.
Greater Manchester’s Programme Challenger – a joint partnership to tackle serious and organised crime together – funded Rochdale-based theatre company Breaking Barriers to deliver the series ‘Crossing the Line’ to children in year six at 50 primary schools.
Over a month the play was rolled out to schools in Bury, Salford, Stockport, Tameside and Trafford for children to learn how to spot the signs of exploitation to prevent and protect them from criminal gangs seeking to recruit them as drug mules.
The production explores grooming through a monologue from an 18-year-old man and his younger brother aged 15. He talks about the criminal gang members trying to give him gifts in return for running their drug errands.
‘Crossing the Line’ also incorporated discussions with the children to teach them about healthy choices and relationships, learning to say no, how to handle pressure from older people as well as educate children on where to go for help and advice if they have concerns.
(DCI McGuire with children from Seymour Park Primary School)
One of the pupils who watched the play said: “The play has helped me see how criminal gangs can manipulate you by trying to make you feel special and part of their family, then force you to do things for them.
“It has taught me to never join a gang as it could harm your future and instead to stay in school, get a good education and job.
“If someone finds themselves in this situation, they should speak to anyone they can trust, such as their mum or dad, a teacher, the police or even Childline.”
A county line is the advertisement of class A drugs via a mobile phone, known as a ‘graft line’, the drugs are then moved by dealers from one area to another as well as to other places across the country. The organised crime groups will often exploit children to transport the drugs and money profited from its supply.
Detective Chief Inspector Claire McGuire, from Programme Challenger’s Organised Crime Coordination Unit, said: “Young and vulnerable children are sadly targeted and groomed by county lines criminal networks to be recruited to travel across the country to deliver drugs and money.
“They can find themselves in situations that often seem impossible to get out of which can have a detrimental impact on their life and their future. It’s therefore imperative we intervene as soon as possible, inform children early on to prevent this from happening and protect them from the harm caused by organised criminality.
“Breaking Barriers work is a creative way to grab a child’s attention, it educates and engages with them on the signs to look out for and where to turn to for help and advice. The feedback we have had from them, and the teachers has been brilliant.”
Deputy Mayor for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice and Fire, Bev Hughes, said: “We must educate children early on the signs of criminal exploitation and this work is vital in doing that. It’s great to see such a creative play being used to deliver an important message and schools have been a wonderful support with this. Lots of young people across Greater Manchester are now more aware of the signs of criminal exploitation and know help and support is available to them.”
Parvez Qadir, Director of Breaking Barriers, said: “Crossing the Line tackles difficult themes around grooming and exploitation used by criminal gangs to control young people to travel their drugs for them. Using the power of creativity, I wrote the piece to tour in schools to educate, inform and offer safe pathways for young people out of child criminal exploitation.
“The facilitated workshop is a safe place for difficult questions for young people, teachers and parents to discuss those themes. I hope “Crossing the Line” can educate young people to make safe and healthier choices.”