Drug gangs use slavery rules to escape justice


Drug gangs use slavery rules to escape justice: County lines crooks feel ‘untouchable’ if they claim they were trafficked

  • Drug dealers are ‘coaching’ children to say they have been trafficked if caught
  • Cases of serious criminality are not being charged or are wrongly discontinued 
  • Anti-Slavery Commissioner said it created ‘untouchable attitude’ in youngsters  

County lines gangs believe they are ‘untouchable’ because they can claim to be victims of modern slavery to avoid prosecution, a report has found. 

Drug dealers are ‘coaching’ children to say they have been trafficked if they are caught in a bid to evade justice, warned Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton. 

Cases of serious criminality are not being charged or are wrongly discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service before trial when youngsters are designated victims of modern slavery by the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). 

In one case, a 12-year-old boy was shot in the face by a suspect who had previously escaped trial over alleged drug offences due to a positive decision in a modern slavery referral. 

County lines gangs believe they are ‘untouchable’ because they can claim to be victims of modern slavery to avoid prosecution, a report has found (stock image)

Dame Sara said: ‘The CPS are clearly using the NRM decision to drop cases at court. This in turn is supporting an untouchable attitude in some of our young persons. 

‘But is also promoting the fact that higher tiers in the organised criminal group should continue to target and use young individuals, as there are no apparent consequences for their actions.

‘I appreciate that young persons need support. But this system is clearly failing and is being used by subjects for the wrong reasons.’

Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act provides a statutory defence for exploited victims forced to carry out certain criminal offences such as selling drugs.

Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act provides a statutory defence for exploited victims forced to carry out certain criminal offences such as selling drugs (stock image)

Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act provides a statutory defence for exploited victims forced to carry out certain criminal offences such as selling drugs (stock image)

It was designed to encourage victims of slavery to give evidence without fear of being convicted for offences connected to their slavery, but the law is now being abused by gangs to get out of criminal prosecutions.

The Commissioner said the unintended consequence was ‘young people vulnerable to exploitation’ are seen by those controlling them ‘as immune to law enforcement’.

She warned: ‘You have the perfect storm; motivated traffickers who know how to abuse vulnerable victims and how to exploit the statutory defence – and the systemic weaknesses enabling them to do so.’

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