GANG lords who exploit children into running drugs should be as ‘abhorrent’ to society as paedophiles, a police officer has said.

Det Insp James Humphries, formerly an inspector at St Aldates police station, has been tasked with developing an ‘exploitation strategy’ for Thames Valley Police.

It follows work in Oxford over the past three years to identify children at risk of exploitation by sexual predators and criminals like County Line drug dealers - in an effort to protect them from coming to further harm.

In extreme cases those efforts, done with charities and other government organisations, resulted in whole families being moved as a result of threats being levelled against them by gangsters.

Mr Humphries said he was keen to change the narrative around criminal exploitation of children – particularly by ‘County Lines’ drug dealers using under-18s to sell their product.

“I want drug dealers to be as disgusting and abhorrent to the person who picks up your newspaper as those that groom and exploit children sexually,” he told the Oxford Mail.

“They are exploiting children in the same way that paedophiles exploit children.

“It’s distasteful; you’re taking a very vulnerable member of society and forcing them to do something they don’t want to do.

“That’s exactly what sex offenders do and they follow the same dynamics and psychologies: blackmail, charm, bribery, buying them things, threats against parents.”

The detective has spent the past few years in Oxford, working with organisations like the NHS, council and local charities to help children at risk of being exploited by criminals.

In the last three years, the team has supported around 100 children a year in Oxford alone. In the autumn, his officers obtained the force’s first ever slavery and trafficking risk order against an Oxford drug dealer suspected of using children to sell his product.


Insp James Humphries .09/11/2021.Picture by Ed Nix..

Insp James Humphries .09/11/2021.Picture by Ed Nix..


Now, Mr Humphries has moved to the force’s violence reduction unit - tasked with coming up with an ‘exploitation strategy’ for the whole of the Thames Valley.

The draft strategy will go to the police force’s senior management board in January together with a force-wide drugs strategy, which is expected to follow the government policy published in early December recognising the importance of rehabilitating addicts as well as going after the dealers.

If it passes muster with senior officers, the exploitation strategy would be rolled out over the next year through training sessions with police officers and staff in partner agencies and organisations.

“I think sending a child to prison is a failure, personally speaking,” Insp Humphries said.

“However, I’m not afraid to do it because there are some children who will exploit and harm other children and I have the duty to protect the many against those that are damaging.

“That’s just society and that’s just me being pragmatic. You’ll never prevent individuals being violent and nasty.

“However, to protect those who can’t protect themselves is the reason I joined the job.

“If we can extrapolate out our Oxford city and Oxfordshire strategy it’s a fairly robust, simple strategy that’s been proven to work over the last three years.

“We can identify children who are increasingly coming to our attention with a very high demand of criminal exploitation or criminality and I know for a fact that’s not done anywhere else nationally.”

The force was now using a range of data – its own and from other government organisations – to identify at-risk children.

The inspector said: “The more data you have the clearer the pattern is; then you can start to do something that’s much more preventative. We can be talking to children and working with children way before their criminalised. This is key. This is the point.”

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