Seeing the opportunity to expand the drug trade outside London, drug smugglers recruit children as young as 11 to transport drugs to the rest of England. Many parents worry about limiting screen time for children. In London, some parents face the possibility of their children becoming drug mules.

Drug traders decided to sell in the suburbs and countryside because it was a low-risk way to expand business. Responding to market demand for drugs, smugglers, who are also often gang leaders, enlist younger gang members to transport the drugs. Children are willing to comply and unsuspected by authorities. Thus begins the trade.

Kevin Moore, intelligence manager for the southeast regional organized crime unit in London, says, “It is not unknown to see kids in their early teens or even as young as 11 or 12 running guns and drugs for more senior gang members.”

Though younger smugglers have recently received media attention, the majority of drug smugglers are between the ages of 16 and 24.

“There have been incidents where young people were found with large-ish quantities of crack, cocaine and other class A drugs. We see young people asked to courier class A drugs to wherever the market is,” says Moore.

Young people are selected because they are willing and also because the community would not usually suspect them of carrying drugs. A source familiar with the issue, who asked to remain anonymous, describes the choice this way: “It appears these kids are below the radar, chosen because they are usually clean.”

Tyrell Crocker, and 18-year old drug mule working for a London gang, was caught in Basingstoke with cash and Vaseline. Authorities later discovered cocaine in Crocker’s body. The court considered giving Crocker a suspended sentence, based on his age, to give him a change to move on from selling drugs. However, in the end, Crocker was ordered a 28-month sentence.

However, the innocence of children sometimes leads to their demise, when they are not careful. These young people might not realize the risks of smuggling drugs or how easily they will be pulled into becoming long-term drug mules.

Professor John Pitts of the University of Bedfordshire, an expert on youth crime, spoke about the process. “You give a kid a small amount of drugs and then they’re robbed.” He went on the say, “They’re robbed by somebody who is also working for the guy who’s given them the drugs. But from then on in, they owe a debt and they have to work that off.”

Without realizing, these young people have become drug mules.

New sentencing measures in order

Citizens and officials alike in London have accepted the drug trade is not going away. Some blame ineffective sentencing for this. The Sentencing Advisory Committee in the England found that in a survey of 222 convicted drug offenders, there was no evidence that long prison sentences deterred the offenders from dealing in the future. Instead, they viewed jail as an “occupational hazard.”

Under current guidelines, drug mules face a minimum of six years in prison.

Deputy chairman of the Sentencing Council, Lord Justice Hughes, said, “Drug offending has to be taken seriously. Drug abuse underlies a huge volume of acquisitive and violent crime and dealing can blight communities. Offending and offenders vary widely, so we have developed [guidelines] to ensure there is effective guidance for sentencers and clear information for victims, witnesses and the public on how drug offenders are sentenced.”

London police take action

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in London created the Trident Gang Crime Command to combat gang violence and prevent shootings. Much of the gang activity includes drug trading, so the force deals with trafficking. The Command combines MPS team members, subject matter experts and the community for a comprehensive approach. The Trident Gang Crime Command focuses on enforcement, prevention and diversion and tasking and coordination. The partners ensure community engagement and intelligence in the process.

The group provides resources for the community to learn about drug violence and how to identify it, and then encourages the community to report suspicious activity.

As child drug mules become better known among law enforcement and the public, both sectors will work together to address and thwart the trade.