News

Merseyside Fire & Rescue helps encourage public to keep 'Eyes Open' for kids being groomed

Merseyside / May 22

Merseyside’s Violence Reduction Partnership (VRP) is delighted that Merseyside Fire & Rescue (MFRS) is taking its powerful messages about keeping our ‘Eyes Open’ to drug gangs grooming our kids on two of their fire engines in Kensington and Old Swan.

The messages, which are drawn from the VRP’s 'Eyes Open' campaign, which highlight the truth behind the lifestyles of kids who get groomed by drug gangs and asks the public to report suspicious activity, will stay on the fire engines for two years.

As fire engines are out in communities every day, the messages, which include helpline numbers and the campaign website www.eyes-open.co.uk, will be highly visible helping to make people more aware of the signs that suggest drug gangs are grooming kids and how to help.

The messages include:

  • “I didn’t know where I was. I had to search for it on Google maps to see how far I was from home.

  • “There were needles all over. You couldn’t see the floor. I had to sleep there.”

  • New phone. New bike. New mates. New clothes. New habits. New attitude. The signs of grooming can be hard to read.

“As a partner organisation of the Violence Reduction Partnership, Merseyside’s Fire and Rescue Service is pleased to support the campaign by highlighting the EYES OPEN messaging. It’s crucial that our communities understand the destruction of young lives and families by criminal gangs as they groom kids to sell their drugs, locally and far from home.  We need people to recognise the signs and to report it,” said Gary Oakford, Area Manager, Prevention Directorate, MFRS.

“As an active and engaged stakeholder within all of the local authority Community Safety Partnerships, MFRS will gladly use its appliances to share these vital messages. It is an integral part of our work to keep communities safe, and free from threat and harm.”

Superintendent Mark Wiggins, head of Merseyside’s Violence Reduction Partnership said: “During the Coronavirus lockdown, we have not seen evidence that drug gangs have stopped grooming kids on Merseyside. So, we are very pleased that the Fire Service has supported our EYES OPEN campaign and the need to reduce the risk to young people who are groomed by putting its powerful messaging on their fire engines. This includes helpline numbers for anyone affected by this sort of child abuse by drug gangs, and also places where the activity can be reported to help these young people, such as the NSPCC, Childline and Crimestoppers.

“It’s time we saw drug gangs for the abusers they are. Drug gangs are grooming kids in Merseyside every day. Grown men, and sometimes women, are grooming vulnerable kids who come from all sorts of backgrounds. They are coercing them to sell drugs, to be on the end of a phone line 24 hours a day to deliver drug orders, to store firearms and weapons, and to invade vulnerable people’s homes often hundreds of miles away from their homes to help the gangs make money. This has to stop.”

Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy said: “The VRP launched its first hard-hitting campaign in March and it’s great to see that Merseyside Fire and Rescue have got on board and are helping to take its important message, increasing awareness of the criminal abuse of our children, across the region.

“All too often we do not notice or recognise the warning signs when a young person is being groomed for exploitation and even when we are worried we don’t know what to do.  We need the public’s help if we are to prevent young people falling prey to the criminal gangs and with the support of the fire support we can ensure even more people across our region know to keep their ‘Eyes Open’ to this kind of abuse.”

After London, Merseyside’s drug gangs are the second biggest abusers of kids, grooming kids as young as 10. The gangs groom kids by making them increasingly vulnerable, often buying the targeted kids gifts of clothes, food and bikes making the kids feel in debt to them but also making them feel part of the gang, or ‘family’.

Once groomed, the kids are sent away to other parts of the UK to sell their drugs, often hundreds of miles away from home. They can go missing from homes and schools for weeks at a time.

Posters and billboards are up around Merseyside saying: “Know what to look for. Know who to help,” which will explain the signs of abuse that people need to look for and the real experiences from a kids’ point of view.

Facts

  • There are about 120 ‘County Lines’ running from Merseyside. That means that there are 120 places outside of the county right across the UK where Merseyside drug gangs have invaded vulnerable people’s home (‘cuckooing’) to set up the business of selling drugs with one of our young vulnerable kids.

  • County lines gangs are using social media and bulk texts to offer drugs and recruit vulnerable people.

  • The estimated turnover for a typical active branded line is between £2K and £5K per day – profit drives county lines.

  • Heroin and crack cocaine remain the most common drugs. There has been an increase in crack cocaine only users and nationally, we are seeing Fentanyl as an emerging risk within county lines since the last report.

  • Vulnerable people have addresses that can be used by drug dealers to run their business from / accommodate runners / stash drugs.

  • The train / public transport network is used because of the ease of use, links to other areas and because children don’t drive.

Merseyside’s VRP’s campaign was rolled out to other counties in the North-West including Lancashire and North Wales on 30 March, and it has an educational booklet available as a PDF download on the campaign’s website: www.eyes-open.co.uk where there is also the artwork and animation, which you can also see on www.ourmerseyside.org.uk.

Professionals can see further resources at www.merseysidevrp.com

About the Merseyside Violence Reduction Partnership (VRP)

Set up in the summer of 2019, the Violence Reduction Partnership (VRP) is a partnership of many organisations working to reduce violence in all five boroughs of Merseyside. Its role is to coordinate and ensure the work of agencies, which include those within health, education, policing, local authorities and also communities come together using a public health approach to deal with the causes of serious violence.

The VRP believes that all communities across Merseyside have the right to be free from violence in order to provide the best life chances for all.