James Duddridge's Southend Standard column: Friday 11th October 2019.
"Criminal gangs exploiting children to act as drug runners or move cash on their behalf is abhorrent and an issue that we must stamp out. These so-called county lines drug gangs are operating in London and the criminals involved are forcing young people and vulnerable adults to sell drugs in towns around Essex.
A recent report from City Hall showed that between January 2018 and April 2019, 121 individuals referred to the Rescue and Response programme – a project set up to support young people caught up in county lines exploitation - had links to Essex.
I recently sat down the Chief Constable of Essex Police Ben-Julian Harrington to discuss this matter and find out what is being done to bring down these gangs and put an end to the despicable abuse of children and young people that they rely upon.
Since then, I am pleased the Prime Minister and Home Secretary – who both share my passion to see an end to this - have announced an additional £20 million to tackle county lines and reduce the damaging impact that they have on our communities.
This funding includes £5 million this year and £15 million next year to expand the National County Lines Coordination Centre, which provides the capability for law enforcement agencies to share intelligence and plan operations to catch the perpetrators who cause so much harm.
It will also allow the British Transport Police to establish a dedicated team to tackle county lines activity, invest in new technology to disrupt county lines operations, provide more support for victims, and crack down on the illicit finance which drives county lines.
I hope you will join me in welcoming these positive steps, which reinforces this Government’s commitment to cracking down on criminals who have such disregard for the law of the land and the safety of our children."