A teenager has told how he was groomed by criminals to sell heroin and crack cocaine after being recruited through an advert posted on Snapchat.
Two years ago, aged 14 and wanting to run away from home, he responded to a message offering cash-in-hand work and accommodation, on the social media app.
Within 80 minutes, a gang collected him and drove him elsewhere to sell drugs.
Kent Police said a crackdown led to 49 arrests in March. Snapchat said it had made its platform as safe as possible.
The teenager, who said he spotted the advert on another person’s Snapchat story, said: “It was from a simple text to be honest with you…. Within an hour and 20 minutes of me texting them, they was [sic] already here.”
The boy, who has asked to remain anonymous, said he was made to hide drugs inside his body.
“Basically if you get pulled over by the police, cos [sic] they can’t strip-search me or anything, obviously where I’m underage, obviously that’s why they got me to hide it.”
He said he sold consignments of drugs to addicts, each batch worth £480, and dealt with five consignments a day.
After a week, his mother found him and rescued him with help from gang intervention charity Refocus.
“When I knew what he was doing, I thought I’m going to get that call that he’s dead, because the amount of nights I searched the streets looking for him, and couldn’t find him,” she said.
Lennox Rodgers, from Refocus and also a former gang member, said he knew what to say and what to do and “was able to show them how to get out”.
County lines gangs use dedicated phone lines to send mass texts to customers and organise networks of couriers, often children and vulnerable adults, to move drugs from cities to smaller towns.
‘Out of control’
Phone lines are branded with a gang’s name, allowing customers to place orders. Dealers remain anonymous to avoid getting caught.
The boy’s mother said: “We still live the trauma, all of us as a family. I’ve had extra locks put on the doors. You’re living a nightmare, even now.
“Even though my son’s safe, I still worry if he goes out….These people are getting away with so much. It’s out of control.”
Snapchat’s guidelines state the app must not be used for illegal activities, and inappropriate content can easily be flagged.
Developers said they continually seek expert guidance, while providing in-app support for users.
Kent Police said in March officers made 49 arrests, seized £15,000 in cash and helped secure jail sentences totalling more than 56 years against county lines criminals.
Inspector Martin Williams, from the county line and gang team, said: “My officers will now set their sights on those attempting to fill the void left by these dealers.”