The power of partnership has been recognised as a successful strategy for combating organised crime in Adur and Worthing.
It comes as Adur & Worthing Councils held their third Behind Closed Doors conference, bringing together national experts and local public services to discuss how to prevent the rise of criminal exploitation in the area.
The conference focussed on how to identify and protect vulnerable people in the community who are at risk of criminal and sexual exploitation, and particularly the rising threat of so-called ‘county lines’ to Worthing. This is where drug gangs from urban areas, particularly London, recruit children and adults in more rural areas to sell drugs for them. The most recent statistics have shown that 50 per cent of the drug lines into West Sussex come into Worthing.
The conference also heard about cuckooing where the houses of vulnerable adults are taken over for drug selling. Last year 15 addresses in Adur, Worthing and Horsham had been identified as potential cuckooing properties, but co-ordinated efforts by the police and other agencies including the Councils means the figure now stands at four.
Chief Inspector Miles Ockwell, Sussex Police’s District Commander for Worthing, Adur and Horsham, said: “Criminal exploitation linked to county line drug dealing has been on the rise in many parts of the country including Adur and Worthing. But over the last 18 months we have become much better informed about the issue and much better at identifying and dealing with cuckoo addresses.”
The police are part of a multi-agency partnership involving Adur & Worthing Councils, health, probation, and victim support services amongst others working together to identify potential criminal exploitation.
Adur & Worthing Councils as part of the Community Safety Partnership has staff from their Communities and Wellbeing team working in Worthing Police Station and plans are underway to refresh the successful youth early intervention project to tackle the emerging risks. Parents will receive a ‘safeguarding alert’ letter from the Council if a young person is recorded as having been stopped by the police a number of times.
National and local evidence suggests that children are increasingly becoming the victims of criminal exploitation as they are recruited into drug selling networks which are highly organised and manipulative.
Sophie Whitehouse, conference organiser and interim manager for Communities and Wellbeing at Adur & Worthing Councils, said: “Worthing remains one of the safest places to live, but the advent of social media and mobile phones means some problems are escalating, and we want to be on the front foot in terms of tackling them.
“Schools and other professionals working with children and vulnerable adults are not always aware of the growing problem, how to recognise the signs and also how to access support. The conference is about sharing knowledge and information.”
Speaking at the one day conference in Worthing’s Assembly Hall, Mark Pearson, a national expert on criminal exploitation and former police officer, praised the level of cooperation in Adur and Worthing between community and public service organisations.
Pearson, CEO of Excelsior, a non-profit organisation which provides help and support to vulnerable young people and adults, said: “Although much of the information around exploitation is extremely negative, the way that Adur and Worthing takes it seriously and is working to combat what is a growing problem, is a good news story.”
Councillor Dave Simmons, Adur District Council’s Executive Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “Our focus is on the victims and what can be done to stop them becoming victims in the first place. The conference is a good opportunity to expose some of the risks and discuss ways of combating them.”
Councillor Val Turner, Worthing Borough Council’s Executive Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “While our communities remain safe places to live, it’s important that we hold events like this to share knowledge and experiences so that we always remain ahead of the curve in protecting our residents.”