Mum of boy ‘groomed’ by county line gangs sends warning after death

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Sharing the story of their son with the Daily Mail, Barry and Kate told how their son ended up working with county lines drug gangs. 

They explained how Ben had shown symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) early in his life. When they went to his school about the matter, they said they were advised against a diagnosis as there would be no extra support. 

Ben had a tumultuous time at school and started taking drugs. At the age of 15, he became involved with the county lines drug gangs. Kate and Barry said they don’t know how this happened.

They added that by the time he was 15, Ben had been excluded from school and therefore had a lot of spare time.

Speaking about the gangs, Kate said: “I think these gangs have a scattergun approach. They try to get as many kids interested in drugs as they can.”

She added: “One of the things I’d advise parents to know, and discuss with their children, is that grooming doesn’t necessarily look the way you think it does.

“Ben didn’t suddenly have new trainers and lots of money. It was more about getting him hooked, building up his debts, then putting pressure on him — a clever mixture of being friends and making him feel like he belonged to something, then threatening him.”

Ben soon racked up debts, which his parents helped pay off in a bid to protect him and appease the gang. However, they now regret this decision. 

Barry said: “It’s very easy to say don’t pay the drug debts, but when your child is telling you that someone is going to batter them or cut their finger off, and beside themselves with fear, it’s very difficult to send them out of the house without giving them the money.”

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Ben’s involvement with the gang increased until he was arrested for selling drugs in York, 20 miles from his hometown. 

Following this incident, the police decided not to charge and instead he was recognised as a victim of ‘modern slavery’ and he was investigated under the National Referral Mechanism, a home office support framework. 

Ben was then assigned to several agencies in a bid to help him, including the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Ben’s parents believe these agencies also failed him.

They claim CAMHS played down Ben’s mental health issues; Barry described them as “worse than useless”. CAMHS and two other organisations involved in Ben’s care said they did the best they could given their resources.

Ben’s condition deteriorated and towards the end of his life, he asked to be transferred to a psychiatric hospital. Instead, he was placed in a hostel for over-25s. 

Here, Ben died in April 2020. At the inquest into his death, North Yorkshire Senior Coroner Jon Heath said he had probably died of multiple drug use. However, the precise cause of Ben’s death is not known as an intrusive post-mortem examination was not possible due to the pandemic.

Mr Heath said Ben should not have been placed in the hostel, a place he described as unsuitable for his needs. He added that local councils should have cast the net wider when looking for suitable accommodation.

Speaking in the aftermath of the inquest, Barry said: “The message we want to get out, loud and clear, is that this can happen to any family on the social graph.

“Rich, poor, middle income, it doesn’t matter. If you’ve got a vulnerable child, or a child who is susceptible, and they start taking drugs and get into a bit of debt, this can happen to you. We never thought it would happen to us.”

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