London set an unwelcome new record of 30 teenage stabbing homicides in 2021, while a third of all of England’s stabbing deaths are reported by the Metropolitan Police.
The picture in the capital is bleak: fearful for their safety, more children are carrying knives, community workers say. Some pupils are so afraid of being attacked they are being shuttled to school by taxi.
What can be done to save young people’s lives in 2022?
She explained that when she asked a group of children about to start at secondary school what they were most afraid of, “100% of them, all primary school children, said they were [most] scared of being stabbed”.
Speaking of the trauma some of these 10 and 11-year-olds have experienced, Ms Goupall said: “Thirty young people died last year, which is a whole classroom.”
For the activist, who founded the Justice for Jermaine Foundation, the way to tackle the issue of knife-carrying is to let campaigners like her into schools to speak to pupils.
She said that by telling young people how her brother bled to death, it meant they could relate to the tragedy and, she hopes, will be less likely to carry a knife.
“We try to sugar-coat it but they are already exposed to all this, so we shouldn’t sugar-coat it any more.”
One of those present at the talks in Croydon, a south London borough where five teenagers were stabbed to death last year, was the principal of Oasis Academy, Saqib Chaudhri.
He has long had reservations about letting activists into his school but said he had changed his mind following the deaths of two of his students in 2021, because he currently felt “powerless”.
“I [previously] refused to allow the streets of Croydon into my corridors because I wanted my corridors to feel like a safe space,” he said.
“I’m looking at it differently now – I’m thinking how can I get the streets and the community into my school?
“The borough needs to come into every single school for the times the school can’t be there.”
Knife crime is crazy since the summer,” according to Aaron Nzita, 19, who explained how he was mugged at knifepoint in September.
Mr Nzita, who works in community engagement, was at a cash machine on Croydon’s London Road when he was approached from behind and shoved over a knee-high wall by a teenager.
“This young guy just pushed me over the wall, grabbed me, and said he would stab me in my face if I didn’t give him all my money,” he said.
“It was really nerve-wracking – I thought I was going to end up in hospital.” Luckily, two passers-by approached and the would-be mugger fled.
Exposure to spaces such as beaches and rivers leads to greater value being placed in natural settings, study finds
Childhood days on the beach or messing around in rivers can have significant lasting benefits for our wellbeing in adulthood, according to a study.
It found that exposure to blue spaces – such as coasts, rivers and lakes – as a child made revisiting blue spaces in adulthood more likely, as these adults showed greater familiarity with and placed greater value in natural settings.
More than 15,000 participants in 18 different countries were surveyed for the study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology by researchers at the University of Exeter.
“Learning to swim and appreciate the dangers in terms of rip currents, cold temperatures etc is of course primary,” says Mathew White, a senior scientist at the University of Vienna and co-author of the study, “but the message we are trying to get across is that to only teach children about the dangers of water settings may make them overly afraid of, and ill-equipped to benefit from, places that can also be hugely beneficial to their health and wellbeing as they grow up.
“The vast majority of blue space visits both for adults and children do not involve getting wet – so there are also many advantages from spending time near water, not just in it.”
There has been a growing body of research over the last decade about the specific beneficial effects of blue space on mental health.
A review published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health in 2011 suggested visits to blue space could increase people’s physical activity levels and lower stress and anxiety, while boosting their mood and psychological wellbeing.
Another review published by the Environmental Agency in 2020, found that blue spaces were associated with improvement of mood and feelings of restoration to a greater degree than green spaces.
The study’s lead author, Valeria Vitale, a PhD candidate at Sapienza University of Rome, said via email: “We recognise that both green and blue spaces have a positive impact on people’s mental and physical health. Also, prior studies examining childhood nature exposure and adulthood outcomes have largely focused on green space, or natural spaces in general. However, as we highlighted in our paper blue spaces have unique sensory qualities (light reflections, wave motion, sounds, etc) and facilitate a distinct range of leisure activities (swimming, fishing, water sports).”
She added: “We believe our findings are particularly relevant to practitioners and policymakers because of the nationally representative nature of the samples. First, our findings reinforce the need to protect and invest in natural spaces in order to optimise the potential benefits to subjective wellbeing. Second, our research suggests that policies and initiatives encouraging greater contact with blue spaces during childhood may support better mental health in later life.”
One in three children lie about their age to access adult content on social media, according to research commissioned by the regulator, Ofcom.
Many social media sites, such as Instagram, do not permit under-13s to sign up, while accounts for under-18s have limited functionality.
But researchers found children were faking their ages to skirt the rules.
Ofcom says this increases the risk of children seeing content which may be inappropriate or harmful.
Anna-Sophie Harling, from Ofcom, told BBC News the way social media platforms categorised users by age had a “huge impact” on the content they were shown.
She cited the recent Molly Russell inquest: “That was a very specific case of harmful content that had very detrimental impacts and tragic outcomes on a family in the UK.
“When we talk about potentially harmful content to under-18s, it’s content that might have more significant negative consequences for under-18s because they’re still developing.
“When children are repeatedly exposed to images and videos that contain certain images, they’re then essentially led to act in different ways or to think differently about themselves or their friends.”
The Ofcom-commissioned research found 32% of children have an account intended for adults, while 47% of children aged eight to 15 have a user age of 16 and over.
And 60% of children under the age of 13 who use social media accounts have their own profiles, despite not being old enough.
Ms Harling said the age categorizations were meant to be “one of the main ways” in which platforms protected the safety of their users.
“If we want to get serious about protecting children online, we need to make sure that platforms have a way to find out exactly how old those users are,” she said.
“We need to work both with parents and young people, but also platforms, to make sure that the ages at which those accounts are set are done in an accurate way.”
YouTube says it has made investments to protect children, such as launching a dedicated children’s app and introducing new data practices for children’s content.
The BBC also approached Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, for comment. A spokesperson referred to the latest work from Meta on verifying the ages of younger users, such as allowing people to “ask others to vouch for their age” or using technology which analyses videos people take of themselves.
Twitter and TikTok have also been approached for comment.
Youth Unity CIC will be celebrating the continued achievements and contributions of Black people to the UK and around the world. It’s also a time for continued action to tackle racism, reclaim Black history, and ensure Black history is represented and celebrated all year round.
Time for Change: Action Not Words
The theme of this year’s Black History Month is ‘Time for Change: Action Not Words’, aiming to get people to come together to make a change.
It’s about coming together around a shared common goal to achieve a better world for everyone. The campaign is asking for real support from allies to ensure real change. It’s time to reset your mindset and support with actions, not words. #seesomethingsaysomething, don’t be a passive bystander.
As part of the Black History Month, Youth Unity CIC will celebrate black history, heritage and culture, and the iconic figures that have contributed so much, we will also be promoting this valuable impact in our commissioned services across areas of the home counties, Kent, Essex and London Boroughs.
Dover District Council (DDC) is taking the lead in talking with the district’s young people about drugs and alcohol, and their impact on mental health.
The Dover District Youth Conference 2022 is running as a roadshow in nine different secondary schools in Dover, Deal and Sandwich from 23-27 May.
Inviting year eight students, the conference will host an IMPACT workshop (‘I’m making positive action choices today’). The session will convey essential and positive messages concerning mental health, exploitation, gangs, and county lines, as well as teaching young people how to become personally resilient in making positive choices.
Three guest speakers Nick Evans, Anne Lamb and Paul McKenzie from Youth Unity CIC will share their own powerful stories of addiction, homelessness, relationships, and grooming. It will give students the opportunity to reflect on information from people who have had first-hand experience.
There will also be supporting entertainment from young and local talented artists: singer Rudie Edwards and singer/MC for the week, Robbie McKewan.
Students will have a chance to browse stalls from Kooth, Early Help, Kent Police, and DDC’s Community Development Team, full of information to take away on topics that have been covered by the keynote speakers, plus other safety materials. Trained counsellors will also be on hand along with the schools’ own pastoral care teams.
Nick Evans, recovering addict and community substance misuse worker, said: “As an addict who is now in recovery, my passion now is supporting others who are going through similar experiences, and empowering all young people to make informed choices. I aim to reduce the stigma around addiction and show that people can change and turn their lives around. Most importantly, I talk about the importance of wellbeing and offer coping strategies to anyone who may need that extra help.”
Anne Lamb, a mentor, trainer and counsellor for consultancy ‘Out of the Shadows’, talks about the pressures of parenting a child who is struggling with their mental health. She said: “If I can help young people make the right choices by talking about my own experience, then I know that my time spent has been absolutely worth it.”
James Hensman, Head of Service for Youth Unity, said: “Our aim is to build resilience in our young people, by empowering them with the tools and knowledge to protect themselves from exploitation. We show them how popular culture and social media has so much influence on our daily lives, and discuss the language being used in songs and by influencers. We ask them what they know already, and we build on the conversation.”
Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr Ollie Richardson, said: “Our young people have experienced a lot of disruption and change over the last two years as a direct result of the pandemic. DDC is fully aware of the impact that this has had on their mental health and resilience. These workshops have been designed to raise awareness of drink and drugs, and to powerfully show how they can and should be avoided.”
Notes to editors:
Nick Evans is in recovery, and he works in the community supporting others. He has experienced addiction, criminality and homelessness and speaks from the heart about his own journey.
Anne Lamb trained in Restorative Practice in early 2016 and supported Margate Police’s weekly Restorative Clinics for a number of years. She developed a Family Liaison role across the Thanet Pupil Referral Units and worked closely and proactively with some of the most challenging students and families. Within ‘Out of the Shadows’ she is delivering presentations and bespoke workshops to professionals and students encouraging a wider understanding and knowledge of the ‘less understood’ issues young people are facing.
Youth Unity CIC is a “not for profit” organisation established to provide effective help and support to vulnerable young people and adults affected by group violence (gangs), drugs and other forms of exploitation such as human trafficking, CSE and extremism. Their mission is to help Prevent | Prepare | Protect for a future that is founded on more available choices and better-informed decisions. A formula they believe can offer an individual a greater start in life.
Fighting Knife Crime: The Clinical Director for the London Violence Reduction Programme and Clinical Director for Violence Reduction NHSE gives an insight into the cause and effect of serious violence amongst young people
Martin Griffiths CBE, Consultant Trauma and Vascular Surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust, and Clinical Director for the London Violence Reduction Programme and Clinical Director for Violence Reduction NHSE, gives us an insight into the cause and effect of serious violence amongst young people.
A child arrives on a hospital ward with traumatic injuries inflicted during a knife fight with someone of his own age. He may be brought in on a stretcher, still wearing his school uniform. This is not a fanciful scenario in London, where I grew up and have spent most of my working life. Grouped by age, the greatest number of victims of knife wounds are 16-year olds. The second biggest cohort is 15-year olds.
What responsibility does the NHS have towards this injured child? First of all, of course his injuries must be treated so that he is restored to physical health, which the NHS does brilliantly. The traditional view of the NHS’s responsibilities was to say we are a recovery service for the injured and the ill, and that is it. We patch them up and send them home: the rest is up to the police and social care services.
But a curious person asks what will happen to the boy who is discharged from hospital and sent straight back into the environment where he sustained his injuries? We start at the wrong end, in the wrong place, after the child has been injured. We need to know, and more importantly understand the story that preceded that injury.
No one reading this will be surprised to know that the victims of knife wounds are almost all from poor families, and from groups often denied access to the mechanics of authority. We know many of these people face inequalities and challenges, such as drug addiction, obesity, mental health issues, poor school results and poor employment prospects.
We could talk about the small amount of organised crime, which dominates the headlines, which is a separate issue. Most of what is termed ‘gang culture’ is simply groups of disadvantaged youths banding together to assert themselves. For a young person growing up in an environment with high levels of violence, carrying a knife is a way of saying “I handle my own business. I’m not docile I will not be a victim. Nobody crosses me. If they do, I’m going to deal with it myself.” It’s a way of asserting significance, of taking power.
As a consultant trauma surgeon at the Royal London Hospital, I came to the conclusion years ago that the NHS is brilliant at treating a person’s injuries but terrible at treating the injured person.
It’s an attitude that fails young patients and their families. It’s not socially responsible. It’s not even a money saver. The child who has been in one knife fight, who is sent straight back into the same environment, with nothing having changed in his life except that he has a new scar, is probably going to get involved in another fight. Next time, he may be the perpetrator rather than the victim. It’s very rarely an older person who has injured a teenager, and where that happens, there is usually some other driver involved, such as the drug trade. These injuries, in almost all cases, are inflicted by teenagers on teenagers. Treat one and send him home, and there will be another along soon.
To try to stop this churn, I set up the first wards-based violence reduction service in the Royal London Hospital in 2015 in which we recognise that a person’s injury is a marker of their life story. It’s not about criminality, it’s about understanding that person’s life. To start with, the patient is addressed by name and treated as a person with a back story. We’ve brought community police officers onto the ward, not to investigate a crime, but to make human contact with a teenager who is likely to think that the police are the enemy.
With funding from the Mayor of London’s Violence Reduction unit and charities, we introduced the patients to violence reduction specialists, people without medical background but with training as social workers or in related fields. They have the gifts of livedexperience, relatability and emotional intelligence that make them perfect for helping the victims of injury navigate this unfamiliar and scary landscape.
I believe Health and Care Services have a unique role in improving wellbeing and tackling inequalities for people impacted by serious violence. To make this a reality, the NHS London Violence Reduction Programme was set up in 2019 to support clinical teams and to work with experts and those with lived experience to co- create health and care approaches that work for communities.
And, in 2019, I had an email from Simon Stevens’ office, then the Chief Executive of the NHS, asking if I would take the programme nationwide. I was hugely uncertain. I’m a trauma surgeon: I am not professionally qualified as a public health expert, and questioned my credibility in this deeply emotive field. But in Leeds, Manchester, Middlesborough and in rural areas in the south west, many of the drivers are the same as they are in London, although the outputs of that societal failure appear different. More importantly, some of the solutions are applicable to the UK as a whole. So, I agreed, and was appointed the NHS’s first Clinical Director for Violence Reduction.
People question whether violence reduction is part of the business of the NHS. But the NHS is where the victims of that violence are treated. The NHS is the umbrella, not the rain. The question is how do we affect climate change?
Helping Children and Young People to Make Sense of Distressing News
As a global community, we have faced a turbulent few years, ruled chiefly by the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions it brought. Now as we enter Spring 2022, the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has taken over media attention and national concern. We live in a time of constant news streams and updates. It’s hard not to be filled with uncertainty and heartache every time you switch on the television or look at your phone. While we are all struggling to cope with the news, it is especially concerning for children and young people.
To help you guide those in your care through this uncertain time, our online safety experts have created this support for parents, carers, teachers, and safeguarding professionals. You’ll find a synopsis of important terms and questions, as well as our top tips for helping children and young people cope with distressing news.
What is the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
On February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military forces to begin an invasion of neighbouring country Ukraine. This is an escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian war that began in 2014 after a pro-Russian president of Ukraine was removed from office and Russian soldiers seized Crimea.
Since the invasion, there has been worldwide condemnation of Putin and his supporters. Protests have spread across the world (with protests in Russia resulting in arrest from police forces) as international support for Ukraine grows. Heavy sanctions(penalties to trade, sporting, and economic goods that are put in place by international leaders to try and pressure other leaders to a conduct agreement) have triggered a financial crisis in Russia, which has led Putin to put Russia’s nuclear forces on ‘high alert’ and has increased global fears of a nuclear war. Over 2 million Ukrainian citizens have fled their country. Thousands are suspected dead, with estimates expected to be higher. Many are trapped without access to necessities or medical aid. Recently, a maternity and children’s hospital was hit by a Russian airstrike resulting in multiple injuries and casualties.
Live reports are coming in every few minutes. Major news networks have constant news updates available for the public to see, despite difficulties in confirming news reports. However, the news is not the only avenue reports are appearing on. Social media is full of harrowing imagery and stories to encourage global support of Ukraine. While this is done to raise awareness of the atrocities happening in Ukraine, some of this content is extremely distressing. It’s worth nothing that if a child or young person engages with these posts on social media, the algorithms in place on these platforms will show them more.
How children react to distressing world events
While the recent news is upsetting and worrying for everyone, it is not the first disruptive event to affect the children and young people in your care. They have spent over two years adapting to a pandemic. They have endured lockdowns being isolated from their friends and family. They may even have lost loved ones during this time. Experts have warned that these events alone would have a significant impact on the mental wellbeing of children and young people going forward. If someone in your care is struggling, they might be:
Fixated, spending more time on phones or tablets to stay ‘up to date’.
Anxious, especially about future plans or dreams.
Irritable, over-reacting to minor inconveniences or issues.
Withdrawn, not engaging with their friends, school, or extracurriculars.
Distracted, with disruptions to regular eating, sleeping, or personal hygiene habits.
Obsessive, thinking over every circumstance and talking about possible outcomes.
Pessimistic, sharing a more negative or hopeless outlook on life.
Why is it important to talk to children and young people about what’s happening?
Children and young people are naturally curious. They want to know about what is going on in the world as much as they want to know the latest TikTok trend. Even if you try to limit the content they consume, they will inevitably hear about big world events from various outlets, such as television, social media, friends, family, and school environments. They might even overhear something from one of your conversations! If it’s what everyone is talking about, their interest in the topic increases.
This wide variety of sources makes it difficult to validate information and know what content the young person in your care is viewing. If you don’t acknowledge any questions or concerns they may have, they could ‘fill in the gaps’ with the wrong information. This might cause further anxiety, ignorance, or worrisome behaviour. Educating those in your care yourself is important to assure they know how to process news reports on their own with critical thinking and media literacy skills.
Some children may be curious, but not worried. Others may be uninterested in what is happening. Whether your child asks you about it or you bring it into conversation, remember to stay calm, listen to them, and reassure them that you are there if they need support or further guidance.
Top Tips for how to talk to children and young people about war
Every child is different. Their ability to process information will depend on their age, character, and resilience. As their guardian, you have to decide how much you share. You will know them best, but assessing their abilities can help you choose the level of information you share with them. For example, if you are a parent or carer of a young child who is prone to anxiety, start off with simple statements about the event while continually reassuring your child that they are safe and you are here for them. It’s important to:
Acknowledge their concerns. Don’t deny what is happening or negate their worries by telling them it will ‘all blow over soon’. Instead, tell them their concern is completely understandable and that you want to discuss it with them.
Be honest. While it is up to you as their guardian to protect them, it’s important that you refrain from lying in your responses or ignoring any questions or thoughts your child has. It’s okay if you don’t know the answer. This allows you to open up a discussion with your child. You could even suggest seeking the answer together!
Ask them how they are getting their news. Having a discussion around trustworthy news sources and how difficult it is to confirm things during times of conflict might be helpful. Holding yourself to this standard is important as well! Be mindful of any news playing in your house and how you are conducting your own conversations.
Validate their feelings. It is likely these emotions are complex and confusing for them to deal with. Remind them that, in this situation, feelings like this are normal.
Listen to them. No matter how worried or anxious you are, they will look to you for reassurance. Set your feelings aside and give the young person in your care the attention and space they need to feel heard.
Encourage them to limit their news intake. If they feel they are unable to look away from their phone or if they see something upsetting on their tablet, suggest they switch it off. If this isn’t realistic, advise them to only check news sources 1-2 times per day.
Discuss what you are grateful for as a family. This could be around the dinner table or during morning drives to school. If a young person in your care seems to struggle with guilt, remind them that they have nothing to feel guilty about – just things to be thankful for! Suggest researching places that are taking in donations to bring to refugees or other ways to help the crisis in a local capacity.
Use your words and actions to support them.Your reactions to their reactions are key to helping those in your care feel protected and loved. Tell your child you love them. Give them hugs or hold their hand. Allow them space when they need it, but remind them that you are here for them.
We know it can be difficult to decide what to share and how to respond. Remember – it’s important to remain calm, open, and honest with those in your care regardless of their age. Below, you’ll find some examples of questions you may receive about the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine. Our online safety experts have crafted some examples of appropriate answers to help you frame what you would like to say.
Hug:To borrow a phrase: love works in mysterious ways. We are born to love and, as it turns out, love and affection are necessary for both optimal positive emotional and physical development. And to be honest, nothing feels better than giving your loved one a warm embrace –or being on the receiving end.
Role of Oxytocin
Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter the hypothalamus produces and the pituitary gland secretes. Scientists first identified and observed it in 1906. (1) Oxytocin is essential in the process of childbirth in mammals, stimulating uterine contractions and lactation. Later studies found its role a much deeper and far-reaching one that affects social interaction and bonding between people. Scientists call it “the love hormone“.
As Psychology Today explains “…As a facilitator of bonding among those who share similar characteristics, the hormone fosters distinctions between in-group and out-group members, and sets in motion favoritism toward in-group members and prejudice against those in out-groups. Ongoing research on the hormone is a potent reminder of the complexity of biological and psychological systems.“ (2)Advertisement
This special hormone is present in both sexes, stimulating all aspects of the reproductive process, beginning with trust and sexual arousal. (3, 4) Oxytocin stimulates pleasure and reward centers and is the neurological basis for social bonding, especially with the people closest to you.
The brain rewards us for living with others. (5) Oxytocin increases feelings of trust, which are intrinsic to all close personal relationships. (6)
Humans are Social Animals
Some animals are solitary but humans are not. Social inclusion and interaction are necessary for our survival. This becomes evident when we become socially isolated, starting with depression and often culminating in disease.Advertisement
The neurobiological mechanisms of love and attachment are a wonderful circle: we fall in love, have a baby, raise the child with love and affection, and the child continues the process.
The attraction and bonding between us are the physiological and emotional manifestations of our need to reproduce to perpetuate the species.
What’s more, oxytocin is essential for embryonic brain development (7). More specifically, it plays a role in blood vessel formation in the pituitary gland, which controls several physiological processes such as stress, growth, and reproduction (8).
The brain produces a high level of oxytocin to stimulate labor during pregnancy. After birth, oxytocin is even higher in infants than in mothers.
Additionally, in combination with prolactin (another hormone), oxytocin stimulates milk production for breastfeeding. The levels stay high for mother and baby for as long as the baby nurses.
The chemical reaction that follows is nothing short of amazing:
“Through three different release pathways, oxytocin functions rather like a system activator and often influences the release of other signaling substances such as opioids, serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. Through these activations, different behavioural and physiological effects are facilitated and coordinated into adaptive patterns, which are influenced by the type of stimuli and environmental factors. ”Advertisement
“Oxytocin can be released by activation of several types of sensory nerves [including in the skin]…Light pressure, warmth and stroking contribute to oxytocin release caused by ‘pleasant’ or ‘non-noxious’ sensory stimulation of the skin.” (10)
It is interesting to note that newborns instinctively use their hands in addition to their mouths to stimulate milk flow. This type of skin stimulation promotes the production of oxytocin in the mother for milk release. (11)
Instinctual Parent-Child Bond
A fascinating study of oxytocin in parents with infants found that levels increased where there was a positive interaction with their babies. In addition, increased oxytocin was found in parents who enjoyed positive close relationships with their partners and their own parents, indicating that we pass on the love hormone through positive social interaction.
Interestingly, reduced oxytocin levels in the urine of mothers stressed by parenting and negative interaction with their infants were noted. (12)
Oxytocin Can’t be Replaced
The long-term emotional and societal effects of oxytocin are tangible.
Oxytocin release during sexual activity, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and onward directly correlates to the ability to trust and form meaningful relationships. Once a baby is weaned from her∕his mother, the brain produces oxytocin as the result of affectionate touch. Healthy personal interactions also stimulate hormone release. Hugging your child is the most natural instinct a parent has because it feels good for the both of you.
As we’ve seen, physical affection in childhood is instinctive and feels good because it fosters a solid emotional (and physical!) foundation and the ability to develop trust and strong bonds with others.
So while all of love’s mysteries will never truly be understood, we know that it’s part of who we are as a species and is necessary for our survival. Spread those hugs around—everyone needs ʹem.
‘I found out my son was dealing drugs, with my middle class mum friends buying cocaine off boys just like him’
The boy bringing cocaine to the door of Lucy’s* friend looked really young.
“Thanks for your business,” he’d said as drugs and money were exchanged.
It was painful for her to witness.
Not long before she’d discovered her own son had been selling drugs, couriering them to addresses just like this child.
He’d been terrified, trapped in dangerous and illegal work by the older boys who’d recruited him.
“Seeing how young he was and knowing what my son had been through I was making the link between the two,” she told MyLondon.
“My friend’s children are much younger. She’d not made the connection that this young guy here was her son in just a few years’ time.”
Upset, Lucy challenged her friend about funding such an operation, highlighting the boy’s age. But her friend batted it away.
“They’re all really young,” she had replied.
Later that same day, Lucy encountered another acquaintance who was going through some personal turmoil and had been up all night.
“I’m dying for some coke,” she told her in between showing adorable pictures of her children to the other women there.
These events took place, not in a deprived area where drug users are a visible presence, but in a wealthy neighbourhood in West London with clean streets and expensive houses.
The women Lucy described as taking cocaine regularly are part of respectable circles of middle-aged professionals, who blend easily into London’s upmarket coffee shops and artisan bakeries.
They are also a group who totally disconnects their drug use from the trade which is destroying poorer areas of the city and fuelling violence across the capital.
This is the story of how one family was caught in the middle of a West London drugs line with eyes on both the exploited and the customers they serve.
How it started
Lucy’s son was 14 when she noticed he started to change.
“He had eyes like saucers,” she said. “He was aggressive, going out late and not letting me know where he was going. At one point he punched a hole in his bedroom wall.”
There was a lot going on in the family’s life at that time and he was a teenager she reasoned it would be understandable for him to be acting out.
She knew he had been scared of gang activity in the area for while, he was acutely aware of the evidence of the violence it provoked.
“He was constantly worried about blood on the streets and I’m not using that as a metaphor, literally blood on the streets.
“As we’d be walking you’d see blood and say ‘oh, there was a stabbing last night.’”
The multiple forms of modern communication Lucy’s son used to talk with his friends meant he often had details about the crime before they were public too.
“They’ve all got their WhatsApp and TikTok groups and they’re sharing information among themselves,” she added. “They know which gang was involved, who got attacked and if someone’s been arrested.
“So they were hearing the news from their peer group before it even got into the papers.”
The fear was so great there were times that he didn’t want to go to places alone. When that suddenly stopped and he was meeting with friends, there was no reason to think anything was amiss.
One of the first clear signs that her son was getting mixed up in something darker was when he began bringing boys to his house that he seemed to be afraid of.
“I kind of keep an open house,” she continued. “My kids can always bring their friends back. But these boys that he was bringing weren’t like his usual friends.
“They were really monosyllabic and they just brought out an atmosphere with them into the house.
“They’d crash out in the living room and I’d come down in the morning and say isn’t it time they went home, my son would be kind of reluctant to speak to them or ask them to go.”
The boys would smoke inside and generally acted like they owned the place, when it came to Lucy having to kick them out even she felt intimidated.
Another strange thing she noticed was that people would appear outside the house late at night, her son would rush out and hand them something, before going back inside.
When she challenged him about it he said it was just a friend dropping something off.
Then there was the money.
“He suddenly had stack-loads of money,” she continued. “I mean, a 14-year-old kid with £50 notes? That wasn’t pocket money.”
Lucy’s suspicions were confirmed when her partner at the time overheard her son talking with a friend about taking and dealing drugs.
When she confronted him about it the façade he’d been maintaining for months collapsed.
“He went from being kind of a cocky 14-year-old saying ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about mum’ to actually really breaking down, sobbing and saying how he was really scared,” she said.
“When you’re 14 or 15, you’re kind of very grown-up and, at the same time, you’re still a child. He desperately wanted to be tough, but he desperately wanted help.”
Once the silence had been broken Lucy’s son was then able to explain how he’d ended up becoming involved.
Like so many others it started with him being the victim of crime.
How it happened
He was first targeted playing football with friends one evening after school.
“He’d been approached by older boys and they threatened him,” she explained. “He got his phone got stolen at knifepoint and then he was really scared.
“He was frightened to report it to the police, although we eventually did. He then became very scared of gangs.”
Lucy’s son was so afraid he believed he must join one otherwise he wouldn’t be protected.
The frightening thing was that the gateway to that involvement was not necessarily through the strangers that threatened him, it was via longstanding friendships with people she’d known since they were little.
“His friends had started to get involved and friends from his childhood,” she added. “It became almost like the normal thing to do, for him and that age group. And it was cool.”
Although it was better her son had come clean about what was going on, it didn’t make the reality of the situation any less terrifying for Lucy.
The thought of trying to get her son out made her worry about the safety of the whole family.
“We were scared,” she said. “Our house was suddenly potentially on the radar for a whole load of really dodgy people. My other children were also being put at risk.”
So like most people would in this situation, Lucy turned to the authorities for help.
She reached out to a police officer acquaintance because she knew the idea of going directly to the force was terrifying for her son.
But the response she got disturbed her.
“Well, the police will already know,” he told Lucy. “They’ll already know everything about it and have his photo on the wall if he’s involved in cycling around making drops.”
The idea that the police were aware of children acting as couriers for drug dealers and not acting to help was horrifying. But Lucy was somehow not surprised.
“I don’t think anyone in London can deny there’s a bit of a problem with police,” she added with a sigh.
Eventually, she sent her son away to live in a different place altogether, because there was no way out by staying in London.
MyLondon has contacted the Metropolitan Police about its approach to tackling teenage drug dealing and was awaiting a response at the time of publication.
But child dealers were not the only set of drug sellers not being stopped.
Her son’s case has made her more conscious of another group who are able to act with relative impunity because they are middle-aged well-dressed women who no one suspects are selling narcotics.
‘A cocaine-fuelled 50th’
When a friend asked if she could have a 50th birthday at her house Lucy thought nothing of it.
She’d had her own party not that long before and it had been a lot of fun, boozy, but hardly debauched.
On the surface the people who came all held respectable careers. But she soon discovered what bound the middle-aged group together was something more illicit.
“One woman was a marketing director, there were bankers, plumbers, builders and teachers,” she explained. “But the thing that seemed to unite most of them, the real hardcore group, was cocaine.”
Lucy felt naïve to have allowed her to have a party at her house, she eventually ended up shutting things down and kicking them out.
It was the next day she made a disturbing discovery.
“I found a bag which had just a roll of cash in it,” she said. “So I texted her immediately and said, ‘I don’t know whose money it is or what it’s doing here, but it’s nothing to do with me.’
“I just wanted to distance myself, but when you’re in a situation like that what do you do? Call the police? And then they come to my house.”
After that incident, Lucy completely cut off contact with the woman in question.
When she asked why she didn’t want to see her anymore, she told her straight.
“I’m not a dealer, how insulting,” the woman replied.
“You’re selling drugs, that’s dealing that’s what it’s called,” Lucy repeated, but the woman was convinced the term didn’t apply to her.
‘Do you want any class As?’
It was after another party with so-called respectable professionals that Lucy was offered drugs.
“In the summer I went to a party,” she continued.
“It was a bunch of women, academics and journalists and who’ve known each other for years, a lot of us were at university together and we’re all mums.”
Another old friend turned up who she began to suspect might have been under the influence of something stronger than alcohol.
“She didn’t offer anything around that night, but you had a sense that she was [on something],” she said.
“Then two days later, she rang me up and asked me if I wanted any class As.”
“She is a tiny little blonde women who is beautifully dressed and no one would suspect is selling.”
‘Please don’t offer my kids hash’
Lucy pointed out that there is a misconception that as people enter middle age their behaviour suddenly snaps into a conventional stereotype.
Generation X might be in their 40s and 50s, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve cut out the drugs they were doing in the 1990s and 2000s.
If anything they have more funds than they did in their youth to buy drugs that were previously out of their price range.
“People who got into it, quite a lot of them haven’t stopped,” she continued.
“A lot did it in their youth and they’ve continued to take drugs.”
She wonders how they would respond to dealing with the situation she has with her son.
“What do you do if your kids then start selling? Or if your kids start using, if you’re using?” she wondered.
Some parents even go further, attempting to share their drug habits with their children directly.
Lucy has even had to tell friends directly not to offer her children cannabis.
“There’s a line between being a parent and being a cool hipster,” she added.
“You’ve got to grow up when you’re a parent, you can’t be doing all of that stuff. You’ve got to stop.”
‘The perfect customers’
A former drug dealer who MyLondon spoke to for this story said the clientele Lucy’s son and his friends were serving were the “ideal customers”.
“Everyone wants to get them,” they said. “Because no one suspects that they’ll be using drugs.
“I used to have a guy who ran a media company, he’d turn up in a nice car and always bought large amounts of cocaine for a lot of money.
“Coke is a rich person’s drug, it’s easy to deal with the people buying it because they don’t bring the heat on you, they don’t have a criminal record and won’t be being followed by police.”
They explained that the interactions between buyer and dealer were far easier to hide compared to stereotypical users.
“If the police were to come by when you were selling to them they wouldn’t think anything of it,” they added.
“But when you’re dealing with scraggily-looking crackheads and you’re a person of colour it’s very obvious what’s going on.
“The police will also follow those types of users to see where they are going and who they are buying from.”
He added that wealthy cocaine users were particularly common in West London and the dealers serving them often had lots more money than sellers in other parts of the city.
Middle-class drug users were the target of a double-pronged attack by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel in October.
First Patel announced that the government planned new measures that targeted so-called ‘lifestyle’ users whose numbers were found on dealers’ phones.
“We [will] bring down the harshest possible legal sanctions and consequences for these drug users,” the Home Secretary said.
“Including criminal sanctions, fines, curfews, compulsory drug awareness courses and the removal of their passports.”
This was followed up by the Prime Minister specifically linking the violence in urban areas to the drugs trade which serves more affluent parts of the country.
“We are looking at doing things to tackle those so-called lifestyle drug users who don’t think they are part of the problem. In the end, all the demand is helping to create the problem,” he said at a speech in Liverpool.
Currently, the plans laid out by Patel and Johnson suggest that they will be able to target these users when seizing phones owned by dealers.
The problem is that relies on the luck of landing a device filled with such contacts or incriminating material.
As most people in the trade know, a canny dealer will continue to change numbers and drug lines operate using multiple handsets.
A ‘West London county line’
Wealthy West London users might not have to beg, hustle or steal for their next fix, but that doesn’t mean they are not as wedded in the criminal networks that supply their drugs.
If anything their money makes the machine even better equipped to elude the authorities and further up the chain fill the pockets of organised crime.
It took Lucy aback just how easily her friend was able to summon a teenage drug dealer with cocaine to her door.
“It was like Deliveroo,” Lucy said. “It was as easy as ordering an Uber Eats.”
The process worked the same as a ‘county line,’ using the right code words, her friend navigated her way through several phone calls, dialling one and being be redirected to another until eventually the order was placed.
It’s a method associated with the trade in rural locations, but rather than serving a rural location, this ‘city line’ for rich people in west London.
For Lucy, the knowledge of how any of this worked showed a connection between her friend and the criminal network that was more than “casual”.
“If you actually have the number and you have the code word, next to your Pizza Express delivery, That’s quite a level of being involved,” she added.https://get-latest.convrse.media/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mylondon.news%2Fnews%2Fwest-london-news%2Fi-found-out-son-dealing-22885910%3Futm_source%3Dtwitter.com%26utm_medium%3Dsocial%26utm_campaign%3Dsharebar%26s%3D09&cre=bottom&cip=140&view=web
There might be superficial differences between the ‘scraggily crackhead’ and the wealthy user.
But the only real one that matters is that at the moment the middle-class drug taker gets away with it.
Hundreds of former teachers have signed up with supply agencies following the Education Secretary’s call for them to temporarily return to the profession, data published today (Wednesday 12 January) shows.
Initial data from around ten per cent of supply agencies shows that 485 former teachers have signed up with agencies, with some teachers already placed back in the classroom during the first week of term. A further 100 Teach First alumni have also expressed interest in supporting the workforce.
Given the size of the sample, the actual number of ex-teachers who have signed up is likely to be much larger.
Supply agencies are reporting that the levels of interest they are receiving represent a marked increase in the levels they would otherwise have expected in a normal year.
This comes as millions of children and young people returned to early years settings, schools and colleges last week as the Government continues to prioritise face to face education.
Overall levels of teacher absence are relatively stable compared to the end of last term, however the proportion of staff absent due to COVID-19 is higher than normal as a result of the Omicron variant and is expected to remain a challenge throughout the first weeks of term.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said:
Making sure all children and young people can attend school or college remains my number one priority.
I want to thank all former teachers who have come forward to support the national effort and help keep our children in face-to-face education. I call on all other former teachers who are able to do the same to come forward now.
The vaccine continues to help us pave the way out of this pandemic and more than ever it is absolutely vital that all those eligible get their booster or second jab, as well as continuing to test regularly.
Once teachers have signed up with an agency and have completed necessary checks they are able to return to the classroom as soon as an opportunity arises that fits their subject specialism and local need.
The government continues to work closely with the sector to make sure every possible route is being used to keep schools equipped with the teaching staff they need to maintain face-to-face education.
Over a phased return during the first week, all secondary schools were asked to complete one on-site test for pupils to help reduce the transmission of Covid-19 after a period of social mixing. College and university students and all staff were asked to self-test at home before they returned to the classroom.
Proportionate safety measures remain in place in schools, colleges and universities to help reduce the transmission of the virus, including increased ventilation, testing and good hygiene, with older students and staff wearing face coverings in the classroom until the review point on 26 January.
All early years settings, schools, colleges, and universities are advised to continue to follow the latest guidance set out by the department which is kept regularly under review.
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