The real story behind the thousands of British children groomed by drug gangs: ‘Everyone missed the warning signs’
by Sally Williams – The Telegraph (UK), December 2, 2017.
Gang culture in south London is very much linked to the drill rap scene.In August, London mayor Sadiq Khan urged YouTube to step up efforts to remove extreme content after it refused to take down four violent videos, showing gang members threatening rivals and describing how they would murder them, as rap music plays in the background. ‘He’d watch them repeatedly,’ says Sophia, ‘as though he was possessed, brainwashed almost. And one day, he said, “They’ve asked me to be in one of their videos.” And I said, “What do you mean?” Now we know it was part of the grooming process, to make him think he was going to be famous and make loads of money.’But there is also intimidation, she says. They use threats, make you worry about getting shot, being messed with, people hurting your family. The violence starts and never goes away.‘They carry guns,’ she says. And on 2 May, the phone rang. ‘It was his father. He said, “Is Lewis with you?” I said, “No. Why?” He said, “He went out last night and didn’t come back.” ‘I went straight to the police station and reported him missing. They said, “You normally have to wait 24 hours at least.” And I replied, “This is not normal.”’
The criminal underworld has a new tactic — to intimidate and terrify teenagers into running away from home to act as drug mules… The mothers they leave behind share the full story.
It all started in 2013. It still pains Sophia* that she didn’t fully see what was going on. But how could she have known? Her son Lewis was a sporty boy — liked playing football — but four years ago, he was caught by police trying to bury a large kitchen knife in the park. Lewis was 12. Sophia asked her son why.
‘He wouldn’t answer. He has never disclosed anything. He always says, “Because I want to.”’ What she didn’t realise was that Lewis was already following orders. All she could see was that her son was changing. He started having rages, angry outbursts, being disruptive in class. ‘I said, “Lewis, are you being bullied?” And he got very angry and upset.
“No, no, Mum, I’m not. Why would someone like me get bullied? I’m not a pussy, only pussies get bullied, why would I get bullied?” That was his way of saying yes, and he felt ashamed that he wasn’t tougher.’
In January of this year, Lewis was found with a machete in his rucksack in school. ‘That is when it spiralled out of control,’ says Sophia. ‘My son is not a violent boy, he is placid, quiet, caring, kind-hearted. He would do anything for anybody — and that is the problem.
‘His behaviour became very odd,’ she continues. One weekend at the end of April, he took a packet of condoms out of his rucksack. ‘I said, “What’s that? Have you got a girlfriend?”
He replied, “Some guys took me to the clinic the other day to get these.” I said, “What for?” And he didn’t answer me. Then he got really upset, went into a rage and started throwing things around the room. He said, “Mum, I’m going to run away, I can’t take any more.”’
Again, Sophia thought he must have been being bullied. But it was much more than that. ‘He wanted to get away from these people,’ she now realises. ‘But he couldn’t because they’d obviously threatened him.’ On 2 May, Lewis went missing. Three weeks later he was found with £600 in cash and 83 wraps of class A drugs in a crack den in Northampton, 70 miles away from home. He was 16. ‘He had been screaming out for help,’ Sophia says. ‘And everyone missed the warning signs.’
According to Home Office figures, 140,000 young people go missing in Britain every year. They disappear for a multitude of reasons: family conflict, addiction, financial breakdown, mental health issues. But in recent years, Missing People, one of the charities backed by the Telegraph in this year’s Christmas Appeal, has picked up on a previously under-reported group who go missing: children being groomed to traffic drugs.