'It can happen to anyone': Trident talks warn parents about dangers of gang grooming in Havering
PUBLISHED: 07:00 19 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:17 19 June 2019
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The Metropolitan police's specialist gangs unit has been visiting schools across the borough to deliver "eye-opening" talks about gang grooming.
Peter Wilson from the Trident Central Gangs Unit told parents at Hall Mead School in Marlborough Gardens, Upminster on Monday, June 17 that he believes around 85per cent of the young people in gangs are actually victims.
"County lines are achieved through the exploitation of vulnerable people from urban and rural areas," said partnership officer, Peter.
"Everyone lives in a spider's web. We're being held up by our support system made up of family members and friends.
"The gang wants to destroy your children's spider web so that the only person they can go to is the gang."
County lines refers to the train lines used by gangs and the phone numbers they use to control and facilitate drug dealing in more rural areas.
The gang members will use old phones that don't have GPS chips.
Snapchat also makes it difficult for the police to gather evidence as messages sent through the app disappear after a couple of seconds.
Peter said: "It's unlikely that you will see a police officer on the train - it's at the train stations that people get caught.
"So they will go to places where there is no change over and they can get a direct line.
"For example if they're in Newham or Romford they'll get the train to Colchester or Southend."
Gangs will shower young people with gifts to recruit them and then blackmail them should they ever want to leave.
For girls they might tell them in order to join they have to perform a sexual act, such as a strip tease, to prove that they're deserving.
They will then secretly film her performing the act to use the video as blackmail to keep her in the gang.
Peter said: "One girl told me it's a little bit like the show Stars in Their Eyes.
"When you first get into the gang it's great. You step through the door and then it slams shut behind you and when look back the door is 500 miles up the road."
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Peter was keen to stress that any child, no matter their race, class or upbringing can get groomed into a gang.
"There are kids who are achieving 10 A* and then there are the kids who are stuggling and misbehaving.
"It's the kids who are in the middle, who just float along - it's these kids who are as good as gold for the gangs."
Not all of the signs are obvious. Peter shared the story of one mum who couldn't understand why her son was cutting the labels out of his boxer shorts.
He was doing this because the labels were marked for 11 to 12-year-olds and the boy was trying to prove that he was older.
Other signs for parents and teachers to look out for are truancy, if a child suddenly has a lot of new clothes, tiredness, numerous phones, signs of assault and sexualised behaviour.
After a teacher in another borough attended one of the Trident talks she shared concerns about a student in Year 8 who she was seeing constantly in McDonald's after school.
Trident discovered that the boy's parents both worked long hours and he was spending all of his time from 3pm to 7pm in McDonalds. The gangs noticed this and tried to recruit him.
"Mum had no idea this was going on," said Peter.
"A gang had just bought him a bike with a little box on the back of it.
"We're sure the next thing would have been to get him pinging drugs all over the place on that bike."
A mother-of-two from Collier Row said the talk was "eye-opening".
She said: "I don't consider myself a naive person but I felt very naive after the talk.
"Parents need to go to these talks."
Peter added: "It can happen to anyone.
"If you have a phone, when you get home put it in the kitchen and spend some time with your kids.
"You want to build up a relationship with them so that when anything happens they feel like they can come to you."
The talks have been organised in collaboration with Havering Council's children's services, to find out more about sessions and dates contact firstname.lastname@example.org