Ex-gang leader: How I groomed young kids to be drug mules - and taught others to do the same

Jamie Roberton

Former Health and Science Producer

  • By Matt O'Donoghue, Jamie Roberton and David Williams

A former gang leader has revealed how he would groom the most vulnerable children to become drug mules.

Matthew Norford was lured into a life of crime by his older brother and his friends aged just 13, before rising to become one of the most feared gangsters in Manchester.

Now reformed and dedicated to preventing future generations from becoming embroiled in gang culture, Norford has given an honest and vivid account of how he would manipulate young children to help grow his criminal empire.

"I groomed and I taught my gang members how to groom other kids," he told ITV News.

"You look at the young kid who have no trainers, no parents, who's always on the street, not good at school, wants to be accepted and is just happy to be around you."

Norford would buy his targets expensive trainers, tracksuits and seduce them with the "glamorous" prospect of having style and status in his gang.

Once they felt "part of the family" and were "infatuated" with the lifestyle, he would send his latest recruits miles away from home to sell crack cocaine and heroin.

"I didn't care, you can't care - it's all about making money."

Thousands of British teenagers are believed to be caught up in the exploitative trade, known as county lines.

Police fear the practice is rapidly spreading across the country, with gangs increasingly using extreme violence to toughen their grip on new territories and their young drug traffickers.

Norford made £2,000 a day selling heroin and crack cocaine in Manchester but he wanted more from what he describes as "this selfish game".

"The more you make, the more you want to spend. Every other area [in Manchester] has got a gang so...I might have to shoot someone just to sell drugs."

Norford sent his young drug mules to Birmingham and Preston as he expanded his operation beyond the saturated Manchester market.

"Police ain't looking at some who's 14, 15 with a school bag on and you're not going to get caught so you can sit back and reap the rewards without the pain."

But a family tragedy changed him.

While in prison, Norford learnt that his brother - who he described as his "best friend, soulmate and like my dad" - had been stabbed to death.

"I went to jail, all my mum's sons went to jail and my mum had to bury her first son without any of her kids.

"That broke me and that made me change my life."

The grave of Matthew Norford's brother who was killed as a result of gang violence. Credit: ITV News

Sixteen years after he first became involved, a grief-stricken Norford vowed never to return to gang life.

With the help of former police officer Rod Carter, he turned his life around and pledged to help others avoid making the same choices that he and his brother made.

"It's about preventing the next kid from getting anything that I went through."

"I had sleepless nights of all the kids lives I've ruined and people I've hurt.

"Those kids could have been basketball players, footballers, doctors, instead of gang members, drug dealers and the worst of society."