Pupils with special educational needs are being recruited by gang members to become drug dealers because of their “vulnerability.”
That was the warning from police at an emergency meeting last night held at a north London school amid a rise in knife crime.
Met Police officer Peter Wilson, of the specialist gangs unit known as Trident, said: "The gangs are not looking for naughty kids, they’re not looking for the bad kids, they are looking for the vulnerable kids and that could be kids with special educational needs.”
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More than 200 parents and teachers packed into the main hall at Woodside High School, Wood Green. In the local area, there have been 13 stabbings in the past year alone. A 17-year-old girl died following a drive-by shooting last April.
PC Wilson said new gang recruits were being told to sell drugs “across county lines” (in the next police force area), but when they get off the train they are immediately robbed by members of the same gang, either with knives or acid, then told they are indebted because of the lost stash.
As reported in Tes, Ofsted has highlighted links between gang membership and the "off-rolling" of pupils. But PC Wilson said pupils who were "very intelligent in terms of being academic" were also being targeted.
SEND pupils exploited by gangs
And he said gangs were targeting young girls who are conscious about their body shape and luring them with YouTube videos of “boys, money, bling, fast cars and a wonderful life” – yet on the first day they are encouraged to perform a sex act which is secretly filmed and used to blackmail them to keep them in the gang.
"If you’re a 15-year-old girl, do you want your dad to see it? Do you want everyone else to see the embarrassment and shame? The answer is no, so you’re trapped in that gang and you can’t get out of it,” said PC Wilson.
Meanwhile, new gang recruits are warned that teachers and mentors will inform the police if they go to them for help, and gang members threaten to harm younger brothers or sisters if new recruits tell their parents, he added.
But he said adults may be able to spot signs of gang activity, including new clothes, tiredness, numerous phones, sexualised behaviour and signs of physical assault.
“Slowly and surely they [the gang] put in place all the pieces of the spider's web to make sure nobody has support or help and the only information they are getting is from the gang,” he said.
Pupils are also manufacturing drugs and handling chemicals without the proper safety equipment such as visors and hand protection, said PC Wilson.
He told the meeting: "In Breaking Bad the teacher knew what he was doing, he was an expert and had all the safety equipment.
"With respect to them, these teenagers would struggle to make beans on toast but they're putting these drugs together, and do the gangs care if they die? No, because they will be replaced very quickly.”
Following the meeting, Woodside headteacher Gerry Robinson said SEND pupils were a target for gangs.
She said: “If you’re more vulnerable then you’re likely to go along with someone saying this is a good idea.
"But we're very good at spotting signs early, and that’s a real priority for us.
'If we’re aware of something, we’ll talk to parents or make a referral to the local authority so we can get in early help."
Ms Robinson said the school offered more than 70 activities for pupils on lunchtimes and after school, which were helping to deter pupils from being involved in gangs.