A seven-year-old boy is Britain’s youngest person to be held for drug dealing, according to a new report.
The Sun reports that the child, from West Yorkshire, was held for possession with intent to supply an unspecified narcotic, and that his arrest was recorded and social services were informed.
However, as he was under the age of 10 – which is the legal age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales – he could not be charged.
The report also indicates that this is part of a much wider, growing problem, with a poll of police forces finding that 2,380 under-17s were arrested by 36 out of 44 forces across England and Wales last year – up from the 1,964 children arrested in 2018.
Many of these youngsters were held on suspicion of dealing Class A Drugs, with some aged just 12 or 13 but may have been recruited at a younger age.
Last year, London saw the largest number of arrests with 553.
This included a 12-year-old suspected cocaine dealer, along with five others thought to have sold heroin or crack aged just 13.
Arrests of under-17s in Sussex came second with 149, followed by the West Midlands with 142.
County lines gangs are thought to be behind the sharp rise in children being led into crime, with concerns that young people are being used to peddle drugs across force borders in order to avoid detection.
The Cambridgeshire Police website explains: “Drug dealing groups often use young people to deliver their drugs, by paying them or by forcing them through violence and grooming.
“These young people, known as ‘runners’, are usually male and aged between 12 and 20. The young people travel between cities and other areas to deliver drugs and collect cash on behalf of the dealers.
“In most cases, those delivering drugs across the country are being forced to do so by the dealer.
“Members of organised crime groups target vulnerable people to handle drugs for them, to take away the risk of getting caught with drugs themselves. The targeted vulnerable drug transporters are often: children in care; children absent from school; children missing from home; single parents on low incomes.”
Anastasia De Waal from children’s charity I Can Be, said: “We’re seeing a troubling trend. It is stealing childhoods, as well as all too often setting vulnerable youngsters up for years of criminality.”
De Waal said she believes the penalties for exploiting children for crime should outweigh any benefits gangs may receive from using them.
Barnardo’s, another children’s charity, also said: “Children who are dealing drugs have often been abused and exploited, and need safeguarding.”