A 13-YEAR-OLD boy was recruited to deal crack cocaine and heroin with drug dealers specifically targeting vulnerable schoolchildren in Southend.

Distraught parents revealed to the Echo their shock after Essex Police explained their son was one of a number believed to have been recruited.

The boy’s mother said: “The first we knew about it was when police came to our door and explained they were worried he had been targeted.

“They had a social worker with them who had dealt with similar situations and explained about drug dealing and that Southend is being targeted at a high rate.

“I was absolutely shocked and really worried - especially when I found out the extent of it.

“I am not saying he would be fine selling cannabis but to find out he was carrying crack cocaine and heroin was absolutely terrifying.”

The parents have since pulled him out of school claiming he was targeted because he is vulnerable and is scared to go back.

They are refusing to let him return until more is done to protect children.

She said: “He was really upset when we got involved.

“He didn’t realise or understand the severity of what he had been doing.

“I had noticed a massive difference in his behaviour.

“He looked gaunt, very aggressive and angry - just not himself.

“I thought it was just because he was at a new school.”

The boy’s mother explained he had been offered £110 a day to sell as many “packets” as he could and that he had been doing this for a week when officers knocked on their door.

She added: “This is children we’re talking about.

“That is a lot of money for anybody to turn down, let alone young kids.

“My son was even being taken to London at times.

“It’s so dangerous to take him out of his comfort area.

“It’s not like he could just run away.”

It is believed some dealers are robbing the children of the drugs while others then force them to pay off the debt which there is little chance of them doing.

Numerous court cases have revealed children in care homes in London have been targeted by the gangs and it is feared similar is happening in Southend where the vulnerable are preyed upon.

The boy’s mother added: “Somebody needs to realise what is going on.

“The fact they are targeting vulnerable children is disgusting.

“I spoke to the safeguarding officer at the school and they said they are aware but said there’s not much they can do.”

A spokesman for the school “categorically denied” gang members are targeting its students and claimed everything is done to “minimise risks”.

A spokesman for Essex Police said: “For operational reasons, we can neither confirm nor deny any Essex Police activity in this case.

“Our work with councils, schools and other agencies is aimed at safeguarding any child who is at risk of criminal or sexual exploitation and police officers are working every day to take drug gangs off our streets and prevent them from exploiting vulnerable people.

“That work is successful, with drug gangs disrupted on a daily basis.”

A spokesman for Southend Council said: “It is important to highlight that this is a national issue and not one limited to Southend alone. It will also encourage parents and carers to be aware of the issue, what they can do to see the signs, and how they can report any concerns to the relevant authorities.”

The Echo decided not to name the school while investigations continue.


COUNTY lines drug dealing is impacting children across Essex and the UK.

A report published last year by the National Crime Agency estimated there are as many as 720 county lines across the country with thousands of children at risk.

An NSPCC spokesperson for the East of England said: “Drug dealers often target vulnerable young people to take huge risks moving drugs for the benefit of others. We must be clear - young people who are criminally exploited are victims and need access to appropriate support. We know children in this situation are often too scared to seek the help they need.

“Childline is there for them 24/7 for support and advice and anyone worried about a child’s welfare can call our Helpline on 0808 800 5000.”

A joint operation to improve awareness is being launched this Friday supported by Southend Council, Essex Police and the Echo.

A spokesman for Essex Police said: “We need anyone with information on drug dealers, vulnerable people or children being criminally exploited to call 101, make an online report or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.”