UK: Dealers using using young children as couriers after police crackdown
Drug dealers in Gloucestershire are using children as young as four to deliver packets of heroin for them, a police officer said yesterday.
Detective Sergeant John Roberts is head of Gloucestershire's new policing priority unit, principally aimed at tackling the drugs problem. Since its launch in June, the nine-strong team has arrested more than 100 people and carried out over 140 stop and searches.
Det Sgt Roberts said the unit's tough stance on street dealing was making it increasingly difficult for drug pushers to operate in public. However, they were becoming more devious by using child couriers.
"Obviously, we want to get the zero tolerance message out to dealers and we ask the public to help us get them off the streets," he said. "But the criminals know if we see adults and suspect them of dealing we will search them."
He said some pushers would exploit anyone, even their own children, by getting them to act as couriers, to avoid getting caught with Class A drugs.
Youngsters about 12 or 13 years old were frequently asked to carry drugs, often by their parents. But there had been instances of children as young as four or five being used, although this was rare.
Det Sgt Roberts said he was aware of a case where officers saw a suspect's four-year-old daughter walk out of the family home, clutching a bag of heroin, before leaving it on the ground for an addict.
"What happened in this case was the suspect sent his young daughter out of the house with a wrap of heroin in her hand. She dropped it on the floor outside the house, and a user came along and picked it up. The suspect then met the user and cash exchanged hands."
Mr Roberts said: "When you are desperate you will use whatever means, and in some cases that is using a child to make sure you don't get caught. By using this method, the dealer keeps the drugs close to him and he knows they are safe. But at the same time, he can deny the drugs came from him. If we find them on the child, he can just say she picked them up off the street."
He said other methods to avoid detection include carrying heroin wraps between the cheeks of the buttocks, known as 'plugging'; or in the mouth so they could be swallowed if stopped by police.
Cheltenham, which has a population of 110,000, was responsible for 1,288 drug offences last year, according to the British Crime Survey.
Det Sgt Roberts said the local drugs trade was run by a handful of local gangs who bought drugs from suppliers in Gloucester, Birmingham, Bristol and Swindon and used local addicts to sell them on.
The Gloucestershire police drugs unit began its summer blitz by targeting hot spots, where pushers and buyers carry out deals, such as phone boxes, public toilets and playing fields.
But although police feel they have succeeded in driving some of the dealers out of business and forcing addicts to consider giving up, they admit others will move elsewhere.
Det Sgt Roberts described the scene at one local playing field as "a Mexican stand-off, with the police on one side of the field, the users on the other and the dealers in the middle, by the playground, watching us through binoculars."
But he added: "Now that just doesn't happen. As time's gone on it's become a lot less obvious. Because we're putting a lot of pressure on they're having to change tactics on a daily basis. Quite often, they'll change the site from where they sell every two or three days.
"We can't be out there all day every day but we've cut the amount of dealing dramatically. By stopping and searching and executing search warrants, we can drive the dealers out of business.
"When we talk to people in the cells they say they're trying to go clean because it's so hard to get hold of the stuff in Cheltenham and Tewkesbury."