Video report by ITV News National Editor Allegra Stratton
Leon was 14 when he first travelled from London to sell drugs. He told ITV News the dealers sent them out with heroin and cocaine, often having to work around the clock in cities like Bristol and Southampton.
Leon said when he tried to break away they threatened him with violence. "One of them punched me in the eye and then was like 'you have to do this, if you don’t we’re going to go round to your mum’s house, break the door' and basically hurt my mum and that’s what really put the fear into me."
ITV News yesterday revealed how organised criminals are exploiting boys and girls as young as 12 to act as drug mules, carrying class A drugs around the country and often travelling hundreds of miles from their homes.
For the criminals it is cheap labour and a way of evading police officers. But it traps the young people involved into a life of crime.
Leon only escaped the dealers when he was sent to prison. He has since turned his life around but he said it is important people understand kids involved often do not have a choice.
“It’s not like a person wakes up and thinks, 'ok tomorrow I am going to sell drugs'. It’s something they are groomed into because no one starts off going away to Wales, Scotland to sell crack and heroin. It’s not a nice life.”
One of the difficulties for those trying to arrest the people who groom and use children to run drugs is there is no legislation designed to target these modern-day Fagins.
Attempts are being made to use human trafficking laws but so far no-one has been prosecuted specifically for the criminal exploitation of children born and living in Britain.
Jim Gamble, a former head of child exploitation at the National Crime Agency, said the time has come for a law that explicitly tackles this crime.
You’ve got to create a new law that stigmatises gangsters, that says if you use a child as an instrument of crime to carry products from A to B, whether you do it in person, whether you do it over social media or by text, you commit a criminal offence. We will call it child criminal exploitation. That labels the gangster in such a way they should be, because in essence they are a child abuser.
Labour MP Ann Coffey, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Missing Children and Adults, said she wants to see the use of a civil order – something akin to an Antisocial Behaviour Order (ASBO) - that would be called a Fagin’s Order.
She said it would prevent gangsters and drug dealers from coming around children and offering them free gifts to draw them into their world.
I would like to see the introduction of a Fagin's Order so when a gangster targets a vulnerable, needy child offering gifts with a view to engaging them in criminal activity; as soon as he makes those overtures the order is served forbidding him any further contact with that child.
The order would work in conjunction with the law, but as a preventative measure to stop the exploitation happening.
Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Stokley heads the Metropolitan Police’s gang unit Trident, which is at the forefront of tackling the so-called "county lines" that sees children sent from region to region.
He said the police were moving away from criminalising the young people involved.
"They are victims," he said. "These are safeguarding issues, these are vulnerable young people who are being exploited. The men and women of my command will do everything in their power to prosecute those involved.”