Crimestoppers, The North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (Titan), and the six North West police forces have joined forces to launch a campaign to highlight the exploitation of children and young people by criminals in the region.

The campaign will seek to raise awareness of the issue of County Lines, when criminal gangs typically use children and vulnerable adults to transport and/or deal drugs to customers.

This will be accompanied by law enforcement activity across the region to disrupt and arrest those who seek to harm our children.

Victims are recruited using intimidation, deception, violence, debt bondage or grooming and the ‘victims’ are likely to commit criminal offences during the process.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Barr, head of TITAN, said: “By raising awareness of the issue today, we hope to increase community intelligence, and give help and support to young people through a range of partners in the community.

“Young people are being coerced, groomed and threatened by violence to take part in illegal activity across the North West and North Wales. “We have chosen to launch this campaign at the International Slavery Museum because this is the modern face of slavery in our cities, towns, resorts and countryside.

“Many of these young people feel that they have not got a choice and struggle to find a way to escape from the hurt and harm that they are enduring on a daily basis.

“We want to educate vulnerable people on how they can avoid becoming a target to these criminal groups and give those vulnerable people caught up in this the confidence to break out of the cycle.

“It can only be combatted if the public understand what it is, know how to spot the signs and know what to do if they think a person they know is being exploited.

“I would encourage anyone who has concerns about vulnerable people being targeted in this way to come forward and speak to us, either directly or anonymously through Crimestoppers.”

The event was support by Merseyside's Deputy Police Commissioner, Cllr Emily Spurrell, who highlighted the commitment to tackling this issue.

She said:“Child Criminal Exploitation or County Lines is a rapidly emerging issue which is a major concern for our communities.

"Children as young as 10 or 11 are being groomed to enter gangs and commit crime on behalf of older criminals. These young people are being exploited and, by being lured, coerced or groomed into carrying out illegal activities, they become incredibly vulnerable.

“While there is now much greater awareness of the issue of Child Sexual Exploitation, Child Criminal Exploitation is still very much an unknown quantity. It is difficult to quantify the scale of the problem and there can often be complex factors affecting a young person’s life when they are forced into committing crime. Victims are often fearful of getting into trouble themselves - for the very actions they have been exploited into carrying out - so it can also be difficult to get these young people to come forward and speak out about their situation.

“That’s why today’s event was so important – we need to raise awareness among professionals, but importantly also among the wider public of how to spot the warning signs and how to tell when a child may be at risk of abuse and exploitation. There is a real commitment among the Police and Crime Commissioners and police forces across the North West to tackle this issue and today's launch demonstrates the collaborative approach we are taking to protect young people.”

Gary Murray, Crimestoppers Regional Manager for the North West, said: “We need the public’s help to put a stop to this exploitation and the damage that these criminals are inflicting on children and young people.

“We won’t judge or ask any personal details. All we want to know is what you know, and you’ll remain 100% anonymous. Always.

“If you have any information on those who are exploiting children and young people, Crimestoppers is here to take your information. You can contact us anonymously on 0800 555 111 or can send an untraceable online form at”

The mother of a boy who was exploited by a criminal gang has spoken anonymously of the strain it put on her family.

She said: "My son was a normal, bright pupil at school. But I started to notice he was behaving differently, associating with different people and going out at strange times.

"Maybe it was mother’s intuition, but I suspected something wasn’t right, so I started to challenge him. I thought he might have been lying about where he was going and who he was with, and I was right.

"I would appeal to all parents and families out there who think this might be going on, to trust your instincts and if you suspect your child may have got involved in something, speak to them about it or contact police.

"My son’s involvement in crime devastated our family and if I can save one other family from the same fate, then speaking out will be worthwhile."

More information on the Crimestoppers County Lines campaign can be found below: