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Early intervention key to tackling drug and knife crime, says head of council's anti-gangs unit

PUBLISHED: 16:53 03 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:53 03 April 2019

Catherine Bennett speaks at the #CanYouHearMe2019 Conference at the University of Suffolk

Catherine Bennett speaks at the #CanYouHearMe2019 Conference at the University of Suffolk

Archant

The head of Suffolk County Council's anti-gangs unit has warned vulnerable children involved in the county lines drug trade are at "high risk of physical, sexual and mental harm".

Students gather to hear the speakers at the #CanYouHearMe2019 Conference at the University of SuffolkStudents gather to hear the speakers at the #CanYouHearMe2019 Conference at the University of Suffolk

Speaking in front of hundreds of health and social care students at the University of Suffolk, Catherine Bennett, gangs and county lines manager, said that to tackle the scourge of drug and knife crime in the county, young people need intervention at key moments in their lives.

She said when a child’s life takes a knock – being expelled from school for example or when they are facing problems at home – they can often be tempted into the world of gangs.

She said: “A young person may be offered status, perceived friendship or affection or high value items such as flash trainers and nice clothing.

“It’s important to remember these are children being groomed and exploited. With money and drugs as a commodity, the risk of violence to children and the families is significant. Children involved in this type of activities are at high risk of physical, sexual and mental health harm.”

Judge Martyn Levett speaks at the #CanYouHearMe2019 Conference at the University of SuffolkJudge Martyn Levett speaks at the #CanYouHearMe2019 Conference at the University of Suffolk

Mrs Bennett was one of the speakers – which included Judge Martyn Levett, who presided over the recent Tavis Spencer-Aitkens murder trial – to address the CanYouHearMe conference.

The event, for students looking to enter the world of heath, social care and policing, aimed to promote the idea of listening to service users and to improve links between organisations.

Mrs Bennett said the health and social care sector have a key role to play in combatting gangs by identifying individuals at risk and to help those who wish to leave develop exit strategies.

She said: “Exploitation is an essential part of the business model. I had a conversation with one gang member and one of the things he said to me was when he was involved in gang activity he would look for children with no positive adults in their lives.

Students gather to hear the speakers at the #CanYouHearMe2019 Conference at the University of SuffolkStudents gather to hear the speakers at the #CanYouHearMe2019 Conference at the University of Suffolk

“He would then buy them a really expensive pair of trainers.

“If no adult showed an interest he could get them working for him without anyone questioning”

The conference was organised by Suzanna Pickering, senior lecturer in social work and Ruth Strudwick, associate professor in diagnostic radiotherapy.

Mrs Pickering said: “This is happening with young people in our lives and it’s pretty shocking and harrowing to recognise that such trauma is being inflicted on our young people today.”

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