UK police under fire over children trafficked into drug trade

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Police efforts to crack down on drug gangs that traffic children in Britain are being hampered by a lack of coordination and inconsistent treatment of victims, a watchdog said on Friday.

Thousands of children in Britain are estimated to be used by gangs to carry drugs from cities to rural areas, according to police who consider the crime a growing form of modern slavery.

Yet investigations into the drug trade are disjointed and often “less effective than they should be” due to limited police cooperation and competing priorities, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said.

The number of suspected British child slaves referred to the government in 2018 for support more than doubled to 1,421 from 676 in 2017, with many feared to be victims of the so-called county lines trade. Such data for last year was not available.

“Our inspection revealed that policing is currently too fragmented to best tackle county lines offending,” Phil Gormley, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, said in a statement.

Children caught with drugs who are arrested then released from policy custody often do not have ready access to support services, and in some cases are put on train journeys home unsupervised after their release, according to the report.

Responding to the watchdog, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for county lines Graham McNulty said there was room to improve, but the police could not solve the issue alone.

“Schools, health and social care services, charities and others have a critical role in ending this evil practice and we will continue to work closely with them,” McNulty said.

Britain’s interior ministry said it was investing 20 million pounds ($26 million) to tackle the crime, and that a national coordination centre established in 2018 had made at least 2,500 arrests and protected more than 3,000 vulnerable people.

Phil Brewer, the ex-head of the Metropolitan Police’s anti-slavery squad, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in October that police faced a challenge in trying to judge whether a child found dealing drugs should be treated as a suspect or a victim. [L5N26O4PA]

Gangs are luring some children into selling drugs by telling them they will not be punished if they say they were coerced, citing a defence intended for trafficking victims in Britain’s 2015 anti-slavery law, prosecutors told lawmakers last year.

The HMICFRS report said the government should launch a review into the legal defence and establish whether the legislation should be amended, a recommendation supported by Britain’s independent anti-slavery commissioner Sara Thornton.

“It is essential that police and prosecutors recognise county lines offenders who force their victims to carry drugs – often under the threat of extreme violence and intimidation – as perpetrators of modern slavery,” Thornton said in a statement.

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(Writing by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

Five years after mass student kidnapping, Mexico digs for remains in new dump

By Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican officials have begun scouring new sites for the remains of 43 student teachers including a garbage dump near where they disappeared five years ago, after re-opening a case that plunged the last government into a crisis.

The abduction and apparent massacre of the youths by corrupt police working with a violent drug gang drew international outrage and led to widespread condemnation of the administration of Mexico’s previous president, Enrique Pena Nieto.

Pressure has been growing on President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Pena Nieto’s successor, to fulfill his promises uncover the truth of what really happened in a case that many Mexicans believe involved federal authorities.

A person with knowledge of the matter said one place being searched is a garbage lot in Tepecoacuilco, a few miles from the southwestern city of Iguala in Guerrero state where the student teachers were abducted on the night of Sept. 26, 2014.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office confirmed new investigations were underway in Guerrero but said she could not say exactly where they were taking place.

Government officials said at a news conference on Thursday that people linked to the disappearances who had been freed from prison could be sent back.

At the conference, Lopez Obrador and members of his administration shed their usual suits for T-shirts emblazoned with the number 43 to commemorate the students.

“We are convinced that in the Ayotzinapa case, the only truth until now is that there is no truth,” said Alejandro Encinas, undersecretary for human rights. Ayotzinapa is where the students’ all-male college is located.

Officials added they had conducted nine searches since June to find traces of the trainee teachers and would call Jesus Murillo, the attorney general who oversaw the Pena Nieto-era probe into the disappearances, to make declarations next week.


Lopez Obrador took office in December pledging to re-open the case. His government has called the original probe into the crime “discredited” and vowed to go after the officials who led it.

Angela Buitrago, a consultant named by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights who is helping to oversee the new probe, said it was vital to investigate military officials who were present in Iguala five years ago.

Lopez Obrador said in December that military officials should also be put under the spotlight, but it is not clear what questions if any, they have so far faced.

According to the Pena Nieto administration’s account, local drug gang Guerreros Unidos mistook the students for members of a rival outfit, killed them, incinerated their bodies in a nearby garbage dump and tipped their remains into a river.

However, the remains of only one of the 43 was ever definitively identified, and a group of independent experts later picked several holes in the official version of events.

The U.N. human rights office said in a report last year that it appeared Mexican authorities had tortured dozens of people during the investigation. Out of 142 suspects detained in the case, more than half have been released.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon and Delphine Schrank; Editing by Sandra Maler and Pravin Char)

Two more teenagers killed at weekend as knife murders in Britain soar

FILE PHOTO: People visit a site near to where 17-year-old Jodie Chesney was killed, at the Saint Neots Play Park in Harold Hill, east London, Britain March 3, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

By Andrew MacAskill and Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – Two teenagers were killed in knife attacks in Britain over the weekend, bringing the total number of people killed in stabbings this year to at least 24 and pushing the bloodshed to the forefront of national concern.

British Interior Minister Sajid Javid said he would be meeting police chiefs this week to find ways to tackle the problem as he called for an end to the “senseless violence”.

“Young people are being murdered across the county, it can’t go on,” Javid said.

Police say the surge in knife crime in a country where guns are hard to obtain has been driven by several factors, including rivalries between drug gangs, cuts to youth services, and provocations on social media. Many have occurred in poor areas of the capital, London.

The issue has shot to the top of the political agenda after figures show the number of deaths from stabbings reached a record last year. The number of children in England aged 16 and under being stabbed rose by 93 percent between 2016 and 2018.

At the same time, police have suffered big cuts in staffing and funding under austerity measures imposed by Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, particularly during her tenure as interior minister in the years before she took the top job.

In the latest deaths, 17-year-old schoolboy Yousef Ghaleb Makki, was stabbed in a village near Manchester while he was visiting a friend. Two boys, also aged 17, have been arrested on suspicion of murder.

Jodie Chesney, a 17-year-old Girl Scout, was killed in a knife attack in a park in east London. Her family have called her murder a “totally random and unprovoked attack”.

“A Knife to the Heart of Britain”, the Dail Mail splashed across its front page on Monday along with a photograph of Chesney.

British media also made much of the fact that Makki lived in an affluent area and went to a private school. Most attacks take place in more deprived areas with higher general crime rates.


Two weeks ago, three teenagers were stabbed in Birmingham, central England, prompting a senior regional police official to say Britain was facing a national emergency.

A total of 285 knife and sharp instrument homicides recorded in the year ending March 2018, the highest number since Home Office records began in 1946. The previous high was in the year ending March 2008, with 268 homicides by stabbing.

Nineteen murders have taken place in London this year, according to London Metropolitan Police.

The force had arranged more officers to be on duty in response to the violent crime wave, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty said.

Prime Minister May rejected claims that falling police numbers following funding cuts was fuelling the rise in knife crime.

“If you look at the figures what you see is there is no direct correlation between certain crimes and police numbers,” she said.

The government said it had set out a range of actions to tackle violent crime, including a 200 million pound ($265 million) youth fund and an independent review of drug misuse.

It has also proposed an extra 970 million pounds in police funding for 2019-20.

“We’re taking action on many fronts & I’ll be meeting police chiefs this week to hear what more can be done. Vital we unite to stop this senseless violence,” Javid said.

(Reporting By Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Mexican families search remains of hidden graves for missing children

Relatives of missing persons are seen outside the morgue after attending a viewing of photographs of clothing, accessories and identification cards found on bodies recovered recently from mass graves in Xalapa, in the Mexican state of Veracruz, Mexico September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Yahir Ceballos

By Tamara Corro

XALAPA, Mexico (Reuters) – Families gathered at a morgue in Mexico on Tuesday to comb through the remains of more than 150 bodies discovered at graves in southern Veracruz state, hunting for clues that could identify children and siblings who disappeared long ago.

“We still hope we can find her,” Paloma Martinez said of her older sister, now missing for two years.

Journalists are seen outside the morgue where relatives of missing persons attend a viewing of photographs of clothing, accessories and identification cards found on bodies recovered recently from mass graves in Xalapa, in the Mexican state of Veracruz, Mexico September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Yahir Ceballos

Journalists are seen outside the morgue where relatives of missing persons attend a viewing of photographs of clothing, accessories and identification cards found on bodies recovered recently from mass graves in Xalapa, in the Mexican state of Veracruz, Mexico September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Yahir Ceballos

“My mother and I are here to see if there are ID cards or clothes or any clue that show us that she’s here … we’ve lived with anguish, and questions without answers.”

Investigators discovered 166 skulls in 32 graves last week on a tip from an unidentified person, Veracruz’s attorney general said on Thursday, adding that the bodies were likely dumped less than two years ago.

Further investigations indicated that the remains belonged to at least 174 bodies, the attorney general’s office said in a statement on Friday, when it showed photographs of findings from the graves to families of missing people.

Violent crime has long plagued Veracruz, a key route for drug gangs sending narcotics north towards the United States.

Authorities last year found more than 250 skulls in unmarked graves in Veracruz, an oil-rich state on Mexico’s Gulf Coast.

Hundreds of bodies in unmarked graves have also been found in states including Tamaulipas, Durango and Morelos during a decade-long drug war led by the military to battle the cartels, which led to increasingly bloody turf wars.

“This is the Veracruz we have, the Veracruz where we line up to see the remains of bodies,” said Lucia Diaz, director of Solecito Collective, a support group for parents of missing children. “Nobody could have imagined it would come to this.”

No family has yet found evidence from the remains in the graves uncovered last week to be able to identify a child, sibling or relative, she said.

Imelda Fernandez, wearing a surgical mask that had been handed to all family members at the morgue, said her son left the house one morning two years ago and never returned, leaving no trace.

“I think of him every day,” she said. “I’d like to find him one day and know what became of him, no matter whether he’s dead or alive.”

(Reporting by Tamara Corro; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon)

Brazil to transfer gang leaders after prison massacre

Relatives of prisoners react near riot police at a checkpoint close to the prison where around 60 people were killed in a prison riot in the Amazon jungle city of Manaus, Brazil

By Ueslei Marcelino

MANAUS, Brazil (Reuters) – The Brazilian government will relocate gang leaders to other federal penitentiaries after the country’s deadliest prison massacre in decades left 56 inmates dead in a scene of mutilated and burned bodies this week, officials said on Tuesday.

Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes said authorities would move quickly to identify and transfer the gang bosses out of the crowded jail in the remote jungle state of Amazonas where the riot occurred on Monday.

A local drug gang known as North Family, which controls the prison complex in the city of Manaus, attacked inmates from a rival criminal group that encroached on its turf, exchanging fire with police and taking a dozen prison guards hostage, officials said.

Machete-wielding gangs decapitated inmates and threw their bodies over a wall of the Anisio Jobim prison, which houses more than three times as many prisoners as it was built for in 1982.

The riot was the deadliest since the 1992 rebellion at the Carandiru prison in Sao Paulo state in which 111 inmates were killed.

Police hunted for more than 100 inmates who escaped from the prison during the riot, which lasted about 17 hours.

An escalating war for control of the lucrative drug trade between rival gangs has fueled more violence in recent months in Brazil’s overcrowded and understaffed prisons, home to an estimated 600,000 prisoners.

Amazonas state authorities will move dozens of inmates from other prisons to an abandoned jail in Manaus to protect them from rival gangs amid fear that Monday’s massacre could lead to retaliation.

Four inmates were found dead in another prison in the rural area of Manaus on Monday. State officials were not able to say whether there had been a riot there.

(Writing by Alonso Soto; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Jeffrey Benkoe)