Gang fears for excluded pupils

Date published: 05 December 2018

Children who have been excluded from school are in danger of falling into the clutches of criminal gangs, a councillor has warned.

Councillor Sue Smith has called for more to be done to ‘reach out’ to pupils who have been expelled from mainstream education.

She told a meeting of the health, schools and care scrutiny committee that tackling the issue should be a priority, despite cuts to youth services.

“How we would resolve that I don’t know but would like to be able to do more to help these young people,” said Councillor Smith.

She continued: “There are lots of young people, especially where I live in Middleton, that are roaming the streets, some of them at 2pm and 3pm in the afternoon, and they are starting to gang up now.

“How do you get to these without the resources to get to them?”

A former youth-worker herself, Councillor Smith said that youngsters were being given a ‘criminal education’.

And she added that, despite her background, she would be wary of approaching them ‘because you don’t know how they are going to react’.

Greater Manchester Police recently revealed that Rochdale has the second highest level of organised crime in Greater Manchester, with 12 major gangs operating across the borough.

Superintendent John-Paul Ruffle, the borough’s district commander, last month told councillors that children as young as 11 were being used to ferry drugs around by criminal networks.

And Jane Booth, chair of the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Boards, agreed with Councillor Smith, saying it was an area that officials ‘need to do more work on’.

She added: “You might have heard recently in the news the concerns that a lot of young people being very badly exploited by these criminal gangs have been in pupil referral units and excluded from school.

“From a safeguarding board perspective, I don’t think we’ve realised the absolute horror of that exploitation until relatively recently.”

Ms Booth told the meeting she had recently been shocked to learn of criminal gangs’ willingness to use ‘totally disproportionate threats of violence’ to young people.

And she added that, however challenging the behaviour of some youngsters may be, it was important to remember they are victims.

She said: “I think we have to ask, what is happening to these kids that means they are traipsing across the country, risking their lives peddling drugs - it’s not because they’re drug dealers, it’s because they’re exploited children.”

Jill McGregor, assistant director of children’s social care at Rochdale Council echoed her comments.

“Children and young people are victims first, there’s no two ways about that,” she said.

“In terms of the level of organisation of criminals exploiting our young children. One of the most useful ways of thinking about it is as a big businesses and franchises.

“The level of monetary gain adult criminals can make through exploiting our young people is significant, they organise themselves as big businesses with franchises.”

However, Ms McGregor added that the council was ‘ahead of the game’ with schools and the police to engage with people on the fringes of becoming involved in criminal activity.

And she added that, while youth services have been cut, the council still provided ‘a good offer’ in terms of its overall package for engaging with young people.

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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