Eyes Open: new campaign launched to protect children from drugs gangs

We’ve launched a campaign warning how drugs gangs are grooming children in Birmingham – and urging everyone to be alert to the signs indicating young people could be at risk.

The Eyes Open campaign will run for a month across social media and uses real life accounts from teenagers as young as 15 who’d been lured into dealing drugs.

They were groomed with the promise of quick cash or designer clothes – but found the reality to be shocking. 

Watch one of the social media messages:

One has told how they were left stranded in a drugs den far from home and expected to deal cocaine on the streets, while another recalled sleeping on a needle-covered floor.

A 15-year-old girl said: “they make you feel like they’re friends…but you’re nothing to them”.

We’ll be telling their stories – anonymously to protect their identity – in a series of animations and graphics across our social channels over the coming weeks.

The campaign has been part funded by the West Midlands Violence Reduction Unit.

Chief Inspector Corrina Griffiths, who’s been leading on a Home Office funded Serious & Organised Crime pilot scheme in Birmingham, said: “The accounts are first hand from children who’ve been exploited and know the grim reality of being groomed into county lines drugs gangs.

Find out more about our work to help young people.

“The campaign urges people to look out for the signs that young people are being exploited, including new phone or clothing, change in attitude or habits, and hanging around with new people. And to report concerns to us, children’s services or a children’s charity.”

Since last April, alongside the West Midlands Regional Crime Unit, we’ve closed down a total of 184 county lines, arrested more than 600 people, and safeguarded 120 children who we suspected were at risk of exploitation. 

I didn't know where I was. I had to search it on Google Maps to see how far I was from home.
Powerful words from one young victim

And we ran an intensive operation last month targeting county lines drugs dealers.

The two-week offensive resulted in 99 arrests – and shockingly more than a third of those were children suspected of peddling drugs.

Chief Insp Griffiths added: “Sadly the impact of lockdown is that it has taken away many of the diversionary activities young people have such as education, youth clubs and sport. 

“Many have spent a lot of unsupervised time online where they may have made new friends and been approached to get involved in county lines drug dealing. 

“Also many families continue to face financial pressures as a result of the pandemic which might make drug dealing all the more attractive.

“As we come out of lockdown, when there is less focus on only essential travel, we may see young people involved in county lines drug dealing become more active on trains, trams and buses.

“Our officers are switched on to the signs of exploitation and we run regular operations targeting offenders and safeguarding children. But we want everyone to recognise suspicious signs and to report any concerns.”

Our social campaign is targeted at primarily children aged 13-18 in Birmingham and will run across TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

The West Midlands Police website has help and advice for anyone concerned about County Lines drug dealing.

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