MORE than 50 youngsters feared of being involved in drug running and other crimes have been flagged to a Wiltshire Police specialist.

And a further 120 Swindon children, the youngest aged just four, are being mentored by police officers in a bid to keep them on the straight and narrow. They include arsonists and children who have grown up around domestic violence who are feared to be at risk of falling into a life of crime.

PC Gemma Neighbour, the officer responsible for pulling these higher-risk teens away from gangs, said around 56 children had been referred to her by social workers or other police officers. Among the teens are suspected drug runners and children stealing motorbikes to order for gang kingpins.

“It’s more difficult sometimes to engage these children,” she said. At least one has said he is earning £1,200 a week from drug deals.

“The criminals exploiting them will try and pull them away from their families.

“There may be some form of drug addiction, like smoking cannabis. They’ll be given something, like drugs, in return for doing something else.

“When a police officer comes along, they are not willing to speak to or engage with them. They don’t want to be seen to be talking to them.”

Ms Neighbour is currently on a six month secondment, supporting the children being exploited by out-of-town drug gang kingpins and Swindon criminals.

In recent years, Swindon police have battled the rise of county lines drug gangs: dealers from London, Birmingham and other cities muscling in on the trade in heroin and crack cocaine. The gangs often use children or vulnerable adults to sell their drugs.

“I’ve had phone calls where mum’s found drugs under the bed or cash,” Ms Neighbour said. One boy had been referred to the officer after his mother warned about her son carrying a knife, smoking cannabis, skipping school and coming home late – some of the signs a child could be getting embroiled in the drugs trade.

'Stereotype of drug dealing kids is a nonsense'

The stereotype of the gangs exploiting vulnerable teens in council care or subject to child protection plans has proven to be wrong in Swindon.

Ms Neighbour told the Advertiser: “There are children who have very lavish lifestyles. One young girl lived in a large house with a swimming pool in the garden and wouldn’t want for anything. But she became embroiled in county lines. It’s about people knowing people.”

Early intervention team

PC Rachel Barnett, a police officer of 29 years’ experience, runs Wiltshire Police’s early-intervention programme. Around 120 children, aged four to 17, are being mentored by police officers, PCSOs and police staff. 

Set up last summer, the aim of the mentoring project is to stop children going down the wrong path. To date, it has had a number of successes, including a teenaged arsonist who torched a car just to see what would happen and could now become a police officer or firefighter as a public services student at college.

Ms Barnett said: “The programme is for children where we feel, if we don’t intervene, they are going to end up down the wrong path. We don’t want children in custody. We don’t want them being criminalised.”

The children are paired with a police officer, PCSO or Local Crime Investigator. Officers might take them on trips, watch them play football or just spend time chatting to them.

Ms Barnett said: “We can’t change the stressful home life they encounter, but it’s about giving them that resilience so if something bad has happened at home, they can step away from it.

“They know there’s an adult out there that really does care about them. They’ve got that 100 per cent attention from a grown-up who considers them worthy of their time.”

The mentoring programme could save police money in the long run, she said.

"We’re not getting any richer as a force. Isn’t it better that we invest in these children now, rather than running around nicking them?"

Rap music glamorises county lines life - police

Music is glamorising a life of crime for some Swindon youngsters, police say.

Grime, a sub-genre of urban rap music, developed in London in the early-2000s.

But police forces have warned of the link between some grime music and crime.

The Metropolitan Police took the unusual step in June of going to court to ban one London gang from making music, after they used music videos to rap about stabbing their rivals.

Rapper J Hus, 22, was jailed this month after he admitted carrying a knife near Westfield shopping centre in Stratford.

And in October, London rapper Dave scored a number one hit with Funky Friday. The song’s lyrics make frequent reference to county lines drug dealing, with Dave singing of his friend selling “Z” – slang for an ounce of a drug, usually heroin or cannabis.

PC Rachel Barnett said the music video for Funky Friday threatened to glamorise the drug trade: “He’s got the cash, the girl, the bling. A McDonald’s apprenticeship won’t give them that money. That’s what we’re battling against.

“Children in Swindon do take on those personas. They’re seeing the cash flashed on the videos.”

One Swindon teen, perhaps inspired by his favourite music artists, had even begun speaking with a Jamaican accent and slang, police said.

“It’s the language, even the accent,” added PC Gemma Neighbour. "It’s as if they’re totally removed from where they are."