Up to a hundred children in Sandwell could be acting as drug mules, a senior council officer has warned - many without their families' knowledge.

The revelation of youngsters being used to courier illegal narcotics - known as county line gangs  - was revealed this week as councillors discussed the borough’s Safeguarding Children Board Annual Report.

Lesley Hagger, Executive Director of Children’s Services, disclosed the scale of the problem when answering a series of questions on youngsters deemed at risk of harm at a meeting of the Children's Services and Education Scrutiny Board.

Government poster on County Lines
 

Asked by committee chair, Cllr Joyce Underhill, whether children were being exploited by gangs Ms Hagger said she could not be precise, explaining: “I haven’t got the information with me but I think there is something like a hundred children who have been identified as being involved in county lines activity, to some extent.

"Some of who will just be on the periphery.”

She added that families often had no idea their children were involved.

Cllr Underhill said child exploitation took many forms.

She said: “We tend to focus on sexual exploitation.  There are other forms of exploitation and drug mules especially, that have been highlighted recently.”

In November 2018, a  national report by police and child protection agencies warned  county lines amounted to modern slavery, linked to drugs and violent crime.

It warned: “It is a highly lucrative illegal business model.

Councillor Joyce Underhill.
Sandwell councillor Joyce Underhill.
 

"Those who are running county lines can earn thousands of pounds per day. The adults running these networks are removed from the frontline activity of dealing – they exploit children who are at high risk transporting and selling drugs often many miles from home.”

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Underhill refused to comment further saying she would wait until a detailed report had been presented to the committee.