YOUNG people are being exploited to sell drugs across county lines with links between Essex and Islington in London.

A new report from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Runaway and Missing Children and Adults follows the revelation last year that 80 per cent of police areas are now reporting child exploitation by criminal gangs.

Groups using young people or vulnerable adults to carry and sell drugs between boroughs and across county boundaries has become a national issue, the report explains.

Children as young as 12 are being targeted but 15 to 16-year-olds are the most affected.

There has also been an increase in women being exploited but the majority of subjects are male.

An NSPCC spokesperson for the East of England said: “This report rightly recognises the need to offer support to vulnerable children who have become embroiled in gangs and used in drug dealing.

“It’s vital as a society we recognise the signs of grooming and that young people can be groomed for a variety of sinister motives – whether for sex, radicalisation or by gangs.

“Children who have been groomed are victims and need help to get their lives back on track."

Experts recommend that 'police forces and local authorities should work together to effectively map missing episodes relating to gang exploitation, including county lines in their area'.

They also called for an improved national register for missing persons as well as for educational resources on county lines to be produced by the Home Office for young people, parents and carers.

  • Anyone concerned a child is involved in a gang can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000. Young people seeking support or advice can call Childline on 0800 11 11.