Children being 'sucked into' drug gangs on Teesside

Young people are being 'sucked into' drugs gangs in Teesside, ITV has been told Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

People working in a community hit by high levels of violent crime and drugs have said they are not surprised by an ITV investigation which found young people are being branded by drug gangs and used as couriers.

ITV Tyne Tees carried out exclusive filming over three days with the team, revealing the scale of the crime they are tackling and the lengths criminals are now going to on Teesside.

Cleveland Police has the highest crime rate in England and Wales, recording 139.6 crimes per 1000 of the population. That compares to 128.5 recorded by Greater Manchester Police, and 95.8 at London's Metropolitan police 95.9.

Responding to ITV's report, Reverend Kath Dean, who runs projects for young people on her estate in Middlesbrough, said: "I'm not shocked at all. It's what we see on a daily basis around here - youngsters waiting on streets corners and you know they are waiting for drugs to arrive."

She added: "Now it's got to this point where it's not even a choice. These kids are getting sucked in. The people who feel they own them come after them.

"I've seen that happen, even on this estate where a young lad considering moving to the other end of the country to get a new start because he doesn't feel he would ever get away from it."

Family law barrister Helen Scourfield has witnessed the issue through her experiences at Teesside youth court.

She said: "It's not limited to children who have suffered childhood neglect or trauma. It can happen to anybody.

"In my view, the way gangs are portrayed glamourises it and children are easily bought.

"I worry about my children going out because they're ruthless."

Lawyer Helen Scourfield told ITV Tyne Tees she has seen children being branded by drug gangs as a sign of ownership. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

What has been the response from MPs?

Responding to our report, Alex Cunningham, Labour's MP for Stockton North, said: "We've known for some time that violent crime has been on the increase. Just recently I saw a piece of film with somebody with a chainsaw trying to go through some doors on one of our estates.

"Our police are doing a great job but they are so restricted with resources they are struggling."

Jill Mortimer, the Conservative MP for Hartlepool, said: "We've got 267 new officers now in Cleveland. That puts us about 15,000 officers -and that's more than 10 years ago.

"On top of that they've got 200 more back room staff who are freeing up officers so I'm confident we can turn this around."

A spokesperson for the Home Office, which is responsible for policing, said Cleveland's funding in 2023/24 will total up to £162.1m, an increase of up to £5.1m on 2022/23.

They said the area is also in receipt of additional funding, which in 2022/23 included: £1.4m of Violence Reduction Unit funding; £470k of Grip funding and £500,000 of Project ADDER funding.

Although, they admitted officer numbers have fallen by more than 200 since 2010.

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