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Fri 26 April 2019
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Home Office Minister agrees to probe claim of recruitment targets for more child spies against ‘County Lines’ drug gangs

Yesterday (18 March), Baroness Jenny Jones informed the House of Lords of a police whistleblower’s claim that police have “regional targets” to recruit more children in “County Lines” drug-dealing gangs as informants.

Bladed weapons, firearms, imitation firearms, stun guns, crossbows, crowbars, axes, hammers, screwdrivers, knuckle dusters, CS sprays and acid continue to be reported as linked to County Lines.

National Crime Agency Report, January 2019

Baroness Jones was interrogating Government information that use of children by police is ‘rare’. According to newly-released figures, 17 children have worked covertly for public authorities in the last three years.

Jones said that a police whistleblower has claimed police may be recruiting more children – typically teenagers under the age of 18 – as informants on County Lines, and have regional targets to do so.

Home Office Minister Baroness Susan Williams yesterday responded to Jones by promising to probe the claim via the Home Office, and to respond back to Parliament on it.

When Jones previously asked about the numbers of ‘County Lines’ children in police intelligence work, she was told “The Home Office does not collect information on covert human intelligence sources [CHIS] in county line crimes as this is an operational matter.”


Baroness Jenny Jones, House of Lords, 18 March 2019

Byline Times has contacted the Office of Investigatory Powers Commissioner (IPCO), Lord Justice Fulford, to ask whether there is any time-delay in the IPCO’s statistics on the number of child spies used by police, due to the sensitivity of police operations.

“Does [the Government] agree that the police setting targets for increasing the number of child spies in each region goes beyond what the Minister told us before … I have been alerted by a whistleblower that the police are doing exactly this.”

Baroness Jenny Jones

Yesterday, responding to Jones, Baroness Williams cited an information release this week from LJ Fulford’s inspectors, that over the past three years 17 children have worked as spies, across 11 public authorities. None of the children were below the age of 15 and only one was 15, LJ Fulford’s letter states, adding that welfare and breaking the cycle of crime is a key concern for public authorities handling these teenagers.

Lord Fulford adds in disclosing his statistics: “I hope you will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to provide a more detailed breakdown of the figures; you will appreciate the risks involved to both individuals and operations if I was to do so.”

Under current government guidelines, child spies can be authorised to work for up to four months in intelligence-gathering.

In a previous letter to Harriet Harman MP last year Lord Fulford wrote that whenever his inspectors visit a public authority they ask if ‘any young people’ are being used as informants: “there is detailed focus by my inspectors on ‘duty of care’ and they seek to ensure that children are not being put into dangerous situations. Perhaps one of the key factors is that juvenile CHIS reporting on crime are, with very few exceptions, involved in criminality or youth gangs before they are recruited.”

Baroness Susan Williams, House of Lords, 18 March 2019

“Obviously, the police are operationally independent from the Home Office, and I do not know why they would be setting targets for this … I will certainly look into the matter.”

Baroness Susan Williams

A recent NCA report reveals the exploitative hardship that children in County Lines gangs suffer: “Children recruited in the areas in which offenders are based are forced to move to and live in cuckooed properties in supply areas, often without payment, healthcare or access to food,”

“Establishments such as schools, further or higher educational institutions previously attended by offenders, pupil referral units, special educational needs schools, foster homes and homeless shelters are key locations for recruitment. Children who have been excluded from educational establishments are also vulnerable.”

Within County Lines gangs and regarding adult members as well, the NCA reports: “Threats of kidnap and serious violence, including the use of firearms and bladed weapons, are made towards victims and their families, particularly where victims attempt to leave the offending network.”

“Serious physical violence is evidenced across branded lines. The use of and access to weapons such as bladed weapons, firearms, imitation firearms, stun guns, crossbows, crowbars, axes, hammers, screwdrivers, knuckle dusters, CS sprays and acid continue to be reported as linked to county Lines.”

Yesterday, Baroness Jones asked the Home Office Minister: “Does she agree that the police setting targets for increasing the number of child spies in each region goes beyond what the Minister told us before—that this is a rarity? I have been alerted by a whistleblower that the police are doing exactly this. There is no way I can check, so will the Minister check for us and report back to the House?”

Baroness Williams replied: “I most certainly will. Obviously, the police are operationally independent of the Home Office, and I do not know why they would be setting targets for this.

“The noble Baroness referred to the letter of Lord Justice Fulford, which says that 17 juvenile covert human intelligence sources, or CHISs, have been used in the past three years. When she refers to targets, I assume she means targets upwards, but I will certainly look into the matter.”

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