Town Hall’s deputy leader: I’d go for legalisation on drugs
23 October, 2020 — By Calum Fraser
THE deputy leader of the council has called for the “legalisation of drugs” as a shocking new report shows children as young as 10 have been groomed into so-called “county lines” drug-running schemes.
City Hall’s Rescue and Response annual report found that during the extreme national lockdown months, where streets were virtually empty, the “very high” demand for drugs continued to be served.
Gangmasters “forced” teenagers and young adults to work “longer and harder” to meet this demand and used innovative techniques such as dressing up as key workers to get around the intensive restrictions, the report added.
Councillor Kaya Comer-Schwartz, who also holds the children and education brief at Islington Council, told the Tribune: “We can never disregard these children or say it’s too late. Even if they are actively involved in criminal activity.
“Because of the exploitation they have been exposed to, we never write them off. So that means working with the police when they pick them up and continuing to provide wrap-around support.”
The Town Hall’s work tackling youth violence and crime is often praised by the police and City Hall.
Its Integrated Gangs Unit, which brings together police officers, caseworkers, Jobcentre staff and NHS psychologists to target vulnerable children, has been credited with a dramatic fall in youth crime.
From 2017 to 2020, the number of yearly stabbing victims has fallen from 79 to 35, according to council documents.
But “drug offences” have remained stubbornly high and Islington teenagers continue to be picked up in “trap-houses” by police forces across the country as the “county lines” market remains lucrative.
“To be honest, we’re fighting against a massive tide,” said Cllr Comer-Schwartz.
“Until there are national changes in drugs legislation we’re in a very powerful economy that exploits children and will use any means to do that. It’s an economic model.”
Asked if she would consider drug decriminalisation as a policy to challenge this entrenched black market, she said: “I would go for legalisation because the industry needs regulating.
Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz
“The amount of regulation we have around alcohol compared to drugs is where I think we need to be.”
She added: “Crises like the lockdown show drug supply will evolve and going into a time of extreme economic hardship there will be more pressure on people to look for ways to find alternative funds.”
“County lines” is a now well-known term used to describe inner-city gangs and “organised criminal networks” involved in exporting illegal drugs into shire towns using dedicated mobile phone “deal lines”.
Children and teenagers are often used to move the drugs because they are less suspicious and are likely to receive more lenient treatment by the courts if caught.
On the streets, county lines is sometimes referred to as “going cunch”, with “cunch” slang for country or countryside.
In the past 12 months, 21 Islington teenagers and young adults were directed to City Hall’s Rescue and Response team who deal with children involved in county lines. This is down from 22 in the previous year.
The Greater London Authority report said: “Individuals linked to county lines have remained consistent year on year, and activity and demand continued during the Covid-19 lockdown period, resulting in networks and dealers adapting their operations to meet the challenges faced by the lockdown environment. This resulted in a big shift in the drugs market in a short space of time.
“Some county lines activity may have been driven more underground during that time as a result of the increased use or remote tactics by county line networks and dealers, and the most common forms of county lines identification, such as arrest, may be impacted moving forwards if these tactics continue to be used outside of lockdown.”
The report added: “Young people are being exploited not just by gangs and OCGs [Organised Crime Groups] but also by independent groups and dealers, with anecdotal information also indicating that more independent lines are being set up.”
Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick is among high profile figures who have warned recreational drug users that they are compounding the misery.
“There are a whole group of middle class or whatever you want to call them, people who will sit round thinking about global warming, fair trade, organic food, but there is no harm, in taking a bit of cocaine,” she said on the issue in 2018. Well there is. There’s misery throughout the supply chain.”