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London students ‘targets of county lines drug gangs’

A report called for more universities to warn students at freshers’ weeks (PA Wire)
A report called for more universities to warn students at freshers’ weeks (PA Wire)

University students in London are vulnerable to exploitation by county lines gangs and should be warned of the dangers during freshers’ weeks, a new report says.

London’s 50,000 students are appealing targets for drugs gangs, with international students particularly vulnerable, it warned.

The report, by the Home Office’s Violence and Vulnerability Unit on behalf of the London Higher body, found some London universities and colleges are already taking steps to protect students — with one liaising with the security team of a nightclub.

But it called for more universities to warn students at freshers’ weeks about the dangers of county lines gangs, and for staff to be trained to spot the signs that students may be in trouble.

Information about county lines — the moving of drugs from one area to another by gangs and criminal networks — must be included in introductory events for new students, the report said, as well as at student socials and online.

It recommended “using Welcome Week and other introductory events to facilitate targeted events with police as well as with people with lived experience of county lines and exploitation.” It also called for students to be surveyed about their experiences of county lines.

The report warned that the large numbers of students in London’s 50 higher education institutions represent a “potentially lucrative drug market”. Gangs have the opportunity to exploit students by “cuckooing” — where they take over accommodation to run drugs operations from — and for drug running on a larger scale.

Students are targeted because they can be absent for days without being reported, it said. They are also vulnerable because they are “often in need of money.” International students may be most at risk due to their fears over their visa status and distrust of police.

Researchers reviewed six anonymous higher education institutions in London. At some, automatic number plate recognition is used to identify vehicles linked to county lines. But it is feared “zero drugs” policies at some universities may put students off raising fears about gangs.