Mandy’s Story – County Lines

A Derby mum’s worst fears have been realised after her 17-year-old son was stabbed and is now serving a prison sentence having got involved with a County Lines drugs gang.

Mandy (not her real name) and her family have been in a ‘living hell’ since her previously well behaved and loving 13-year-old son first came home with a pocket full of money and expensive clothes that she or he could never have afforded. He was smoking cannabis and was soon excluded from school. 

Since then, the situation spiralled to such an extent that Mandy’s suspicions were proved right. He was not only a victim of criminal exploitation but had also been rising through the gang ranks – recruiting other young people and running drugs lines himself.

She said: “It has been an emotional rollercoaster for more than four years but things have now hit rock bottom.

“When he was in hospital after the stabbing incident, the gang elders obviously got messages to him that he would be protected so he thought he was untouchable.

“As soon as he was home from hospital, his burner phone started ringing again at all hours and he was in and out of the house.

“The police then found him with a knife and a huge amount of drugs.  He was sent down but did not reveal any information about who he was involved with.

“My only hope is that he realises that the people he is protecting don’t care about what happens to him and that he comes home ready for a fresh start to put his life back on track but that potentially puts us all in danger.”

Mandy is adamant that parents should firstly be more aware of the warning signs of child exploitation and secondly that authorities should take parents’ fears more seriously.

She continued: “This all started with them giving him weed and he was then expected to start running the drugs for them to pay them back but it should not have gone as far as this. 

“The police and social services don’t look at the bigger picture.  Rather than being judged as ‘bad parents’ all the authorities involved need to take our concerns and information seriously.

“Schools also need to be part of the whole process.  As soon as he was excluded from school and had more time on his hands – he was way more vulnerable to being sucked in by the gang.”

Mandy has been supported through recent times by Safe and Sound and is now training with the charity to be a peer mentor for other parents who are facing similar ordeals.

“There needs to be more awareness out there about the warning signs that young people are being groomed and exploited by these gangs.  The red flags include having money and clothes that you could never afford, going missing and having new mobile phones.

“There are also subtle things like wearing several layers of clothes to make it easier to conceal weapons and drugs; always wearing dark clothes and of course the smelling of weed and showing the signs of other drug misuse such as mood swings and being aggressive.

“Parents and families also need supporting as it affects everyone.  My son may be in prison, but we are still here and I am in constant fear that we will be targeted by the gang who are desperate to keep hold of him when he is released from prison.”