Manny Gullam tells ITV News Anglia's Charlie Frost how he turned his life around
A teenager with dreams of becoming a boxing world champion has spoken of how a simple electronic tag helped free him from the clutches of a county lines gang.
Manny Gullam, 18, agreed to be fitted with the device - known as a Buddi tag - which allowed his location to be tracked.
His mother Faridah Gullam said the tag "changed everything" as it could potentially lead police to the gang if Manny was with them.
The teenager from Essex said: "The tag gave me space to step away. It kept me out of trouble."
He was just 15 when he got caught up in the shady world of drug dealing. He found himself trading cocaine, crack and heroin after dealers tempted and threatened him into their web of crime.
Manny grew up in Leaden Roding, a village on the outskirts of Chelmsford, and was a bright and diligent schoolboy.
But as he entered his GCSE years, his mother and teachers noticed a dramatic change in his behaviour.
Manny and a school friend had secretly been recruited into a County Lines gang. The pair were threatened and ordered to move drugs locally.
Manny said: "At first, we were asked to sell weed, and take stuff from other people. We were told that we owed him (the senior dealer) money - but we didn't. He was manipulating us."
Despite working for the gang, Manny said "the debt never seemed to get paid off".
Then Manny started to go missing. At first it was the occasional night, but it began to be days and then a week at a time as he was sent to Brighton to sell drugs.
Mrs Gullam, who has three other children, said she could not sleep and would cry constantly as she feared Manny was in hospital or dead.
Manny's phone would be turned off for days at a time and he texted his brother to tell his mother not to call him.
It was at that point Mrs Gullam realised Manny was being exploited.
She contacted police and PC Ryan McNamara, the children and young person officer for the Uttlesford district, took on Manny's case.
PC McNamara got to know the family, working to draw Manny away from the gang. He said: "I tried to help Manny make decisions that would keep him out of criminality, either as an offender or a victim.
"I tried to make him forget about the uniform and show that people care about him. I wanted him to realise the potential he had and understand how much his mum loved him.
"The last thing I wanted to do was to be knocking on Faridah's door saying Manny was in hospital or worse."
Thanks to PC McNamara and the Buddi tag, Manny has been able to turn his life around.
He took up boxing and has already won two Eastern region titles, made the final at the national championships and has an impressive 16-2 win-loss record.
Manny's coach at Mid Essex Boxing Club, Mark Siggers, believes Manny has the talent to turn professional if he continues to dedicate himself to the sport.
As a back-up plan, Manny has also been completing qualifications at college to become an electrician and starts an apprenticeship in September.
Police said this bright future was a world away from Manny's previous life peddling Class A drugs on the streets of Sussex.
He said: "As a boxer, I want to go all the way, become a world champion, winning loads of belts and earning a lot of money for my family."
Mrs Gullam is full of praise for the help of PC McNamara.
She said: "He never gave up and he was always supporting us. We got so much support from the police."
Manny said: "Ryan was honest, caring and really dedicated to changing me as a person. He took the time to talk to me about certain things, talk to me man-to-man.
"My mum, Ryan, my boxing coaches, a lot of mentors have been there for me, to support me.
"I feel like without them I could have definitely steered into the wrong path, and it would have been much harder for me to come out by myself."
PC McNamara hopes Manny's story will show other young people it is possible to change their lives.
"If you are a young person who's got caught up in County Lines drug dealing and you're being coerced into that type of lifestyle, or you're a parent or guardian of a young person or child who's caught up in those circumstances, please call us, we are here to help you.
"Manny's story shows there is a way out."
Police said anyone concerned about drug-related crime in their area, or about someone who may be a victim of drug exploitation, should call them on 101.
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