The East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU) together with The Children’s Society and British Transport Police (BTP) have arranged five days of activity across the region to raise awareness around the methods used in Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE), as well as how to identify victims where they are most visible.
EMSOU’s Harry Dick coordinates the police response to human trafficking across the region. He said: “It’s not just illicit goods, like drugs and weapons, which are seen as valuable commodities by criminals. More and more often we are seeing children and young people being manipulated and coerced onto the path of criminality by them to do their bidding.
“But an exploited child often doesn’t see themselves as victimised and, as such, they don’t always look or act like a victim.
“Through #LookCloser we are asking the public to challenge their own perceptions and, instead of perhaps dismissing a young person as a troublemaker, take a closer look. Could they actually be in trouble and in need of help?
“Police work closely with children’s charities, as well as local authorities and the Prison and Probation Service to combat CCE. This week, we hope to enlist the help of the wider public in our quest to keep children safe.”
Today, (Monday), officers from BTP and Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire police forces will be handing out leaflets and engaging staff and passengers on trains and at stations in Nottingham, Lincoln and Grantham.
Inspector Reid Martin, Safeguarding Hub, Lincolnshire Police, said: “County Line gangs across the UK are using the rail network to send vulnerable children to sell drugs on their behalf. We are here at Grantham railway station today, working with British Transport Police and colleagues from across the East Midlands to promote the #LOOKCLOSER campaign. This is about supporting vulnerable people and victims of exploitation, by asking members of the public and staff to, quite literally, look closer at what is around them.
“If you are on a train and see a child travelling during school hours, or late at night, are they out of place? They may travel in pairs. Do they look nervous?
“It might be an instinct you have that something doesn’t look right. Please don’t wait to report it. You can text British Transport Police on 61016 or a ring on 101 or 999 to Lincolnshire Police.”
BTP Detective Inspector Thanh Ly said: “We are aware that the rail network is used by exploited young people, but they can go hidden in plain sight on public transport and we hope the #LookCloser message will go a long way in alerting fellow passengers and staff to the signs.
“Is there a young person travelling during school hours, early in the morning or late into the night? Do they look lost or disorientated between transport, appear anxious, unkempt or injured? Are they avoiding ticket checks or don’t have a ticket or the money to pay a fare? Are they using more than one phone, or is their phone always ringing?
“They are small, subtle signs, but put together could indicate exploitation. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Text us there and then on 61016 so we can act on your concerns.”
Elsewhere, during the week, the #LookCloser team will be visiting a bus station, engaging with hotel staff and their guests and appealing to motorists and staff at roadside services along a number of the region’s major routes.
Tailored internal briefings are also being delivered to police officers and staff, as well as to local authorities, across the East Midlands, to ensure a consistent and effective approach.
Lucy Belcher, service manager for The Children’s Society’s Prevention programme, said: “Children are being coerced into everything from ‘county lines’ drug trafficking, to forced labour, robbery and violence, and may also be subject to sexual abuse.
“Criminals groom them with offers of drugs and alcohol and promises of status, friendship and wealth then trap them into exploitation using terrifying threats, violence and sexual abuse.
“Any child in any community can be vulnerable. That’s why it’s vital that anyone who encounters children - including commuters and transport and service sector staff – is able to look closer for the warning signs and report concerns so that young people at risk can be identified and offered help.”
If you see something that concerns you, tell security or call 101 immediately. On the trains or at stations text 61016. Always dial 999 in an emergency.