Gang groomed young boys into county line drug dealers

Gang groomed young boys into county line drug dealers

A gang of seven men face jail after two vulnerable children were exploited to became county lines schoolboy drug dealers.

Two men were found guilty of modern slavery offences, conspiracy to supply class A drugs, robbery and attempting to intimidate a witness following a four-week trial at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court.

A further five pleaded guilty before the trial began and now all seven face setencing on a date to be fixed.

It came after an investigation was launched after concerns were raised to the police regarding the exploitation of a child in May 2019.

A designated team, working with multi-agency partners, investigated numerous allegations and visited many young people throughout a six-month period. Officers identified two child victims and multiple offenders by February 2020.

A large-scale enforcement operation was carried out across Stoke-on-Trent in February and March 2020, which saw Qasim Rafi, Umar Rafi, Usman Rafi, Muazzam Naseer, Haroon Hussain, Paul Harnett and Lee Comley arrested. Mohammed Hassnain Shabir was later arrested in September 2020.

The investigation, which involved Children's Services at Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council, found the victims were coerced and exploited by a group of men. As a result, the children were arrested multiple times for drug offences, eventually disclosing the true nature of what occurred.

Detective Constable Stuart Pearson said: 'For the past two-and-a-half years a small team of detectives, supported by colleagues across the force and the two Children Services for the county, have investigated the exploitation of these two teenage boys.

'The boys were exploited by a group of men into dealing Class A drugs and committing serious crime on the streets of Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle.

'The investigation had to be handled carefully and sensitively in order to ensure the victims and their families were safeguarded and that the full scale of the crime could be proved.

'I would like to recognise the co-operation of the victims in this case who have helped us massively to ensure this successful prosecution and prevented other young people being forced into crime and a life of misery.'