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Examination of Witnesses

Part of Offensive Weapons Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:57 am on 19th July 2018.

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Anne Longfield:

There are certainly urban hotspots in terms of violence, and clearly London is one of those, but we have seen over the last few years that that is increasingly affecting every area of the country—perhaps not the extreme violence and murder that we have seen in London, but certainly things like county lines. At one point, that largely involved drugs being exported from urban areas to coastal towns and the like; now, every police force in the country says they have county lines in their area. The strong message from that is that none of us should think it is something that happens just over here or in particular communities—in urban areas that are the most disadvantaged. The prevalence may be higher there, but this actually happens in every area now. We know from the NCA that there are more than 1,000 county lines around the country.

Any of us would be shocked by the viciousness and tenacity of that business model, which is based on extreme violence. Young people who live in areas where it happens sometimes say, “I’ve got no choice. Joining isn’t a lifestyle choice to me—I can’t see any other way. I don’t have the protection of a family. I don’t have the kind of consistency at home that gives me the safety net and the resilience to be able to fight this.” They want to belong. They want to be protected. Someone from St Giles said the other day, “Kids pick up knives like you might pick up car keys before you leave the house.” It is on that level of normality. We need to understand that and then act in a very determined way to ensure that it does not remain normal going forward. It cannot be right.

Again, there are reachable, teachable moments, but this is a concern for anyone—every police force in every area of the country—because the business model is very determined and it acts very deftly, so if there is a blockage here, it will go a different way. County lines, which are based on violence and coercion, now work in a way that recruits young people from a local community, and they are the ones who go out to sell and deliver the drugs, and report back to a base, sometimes hourly, with photos to show how they have been doing. That should be a concern for all of us, which is why I talked about the new safeguarding arrangements. They are in every area and they have a consistent responsibility and requirement to pull those agencies together. They all have to write a plan based on what they know the risks are, and we should be explicit about violence and knife crime as part of that plan.