Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make involvement in child criminal exploitation an aggravating factor in sentencing for drug supply, drug production, drug importation and money laundering offences; to make being a victim of child criminal exploitation a mitigating factor in sentencing for such offences; to establish reviews of sentencing guidelines in relation to the prevention of child criminal exploitation and criminal liability in relation to child criminal exploitation for organised criminal offenders; to amend the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to include a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation; to create a register of child criminal exploitation offenders; to place duties on public bodies to make plans to prevent, and collaborate in preventing, child criminal exploitation; to make provision about the reporting of the scale of child criminal exploitation and the inclusion of such exploitation in child, domestic, and offensive weapons homicide reviews; to require criminal justice agencies to publish information on their responses to child criminal exploitation; to make provision about the training of professionals in responding to child criminal exploitation; to make provision about the content and national oversight of local serious violence strategies in relation to child criminal exploitation; and for connected purposes.
In Newham, we have experienced dreadful damage to our communities done by those who have criminally exploited our children. Between January 2017 and March 2018, we lost no less than nine young lives in West Ham alone. Many of those murders related to the use of children by drug gangs, colloquially known as “county lines”. Organised crime has always done harm, especially in impoverished communities, but this is a fresh horror, as this business model is relatively new. The exploitation of children is not inevitable if we have a strategy to stop it now, and stop it for good.
Isaac Donkoh groomed two 14-year-old and two 16-year-old boys until they were willing to help to kidnap and torture another 16-year-old child in 2018. He recorded that brutality on his phone. That child abuser got 12 years and will be out in 2024, but the horror of that crime did not stop there. Two of the children he groomed were responsible for murdering Santino Dymiter just one year later. They are now serving life sentences, but the person actually responsible for destroying all these lives is Isaac Donkoh, and he and his wider drug-dealing network, sadly, are getting off lightly.
I ask hon. Members to imagine what it is like to be caught up in this as a child, like one of my constituents who was groomed by his neighbour. Three days before Christmas, he did not come home. He called mum the next night, frantic, whispering into his phone, telling her some men had him and he did not know where he was or what he could do. He was frightened for his life and he just wanted his mum. As that child, we gain an understanding that those who gave us gifts and respect now have us trapped—but how do we get out? These older men are brutal, they have real power over us, and we have heard terrible stories of what happens to those who speak to the police.
The truth is that often there is no support to get out. Frankly, even when I am involved and asking for help for families personally, the support is not quick enough or good enough to save a child, to move them and their family out of harm’s way. Local GPs tell me they have children presenting to them with post-traumatic stress disorder because of what they have seen. Dozens of families are grieving children torn away from them, murdered or turned into murderers.
From West Ham, that death toll includes David Gomoh and Sami Sidhom, both targeted at random. Ahmed Deen-Jah was murdered and his younger brother Junior murdered four years later. Fares Maatou and CJ Davis were just 14 years old when they were murdered, and let us also remember Jaden Moody, 14 years old, the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). There are too many dead.
Those exploiting our children are doing it repeatedly. It is a cheap way of making loads of money. So what is being done to ensure the risk is tracked and children protected? How will we prevent Isaac Donkoh from abusing children again? I know there are slavery and trafficking prevention orders available, but I want the Government to look at creating a register of criminal child exploiters, taking this risk as seriously as that of other child abuse perpetrators, because these people who abuse children for profit are frankly the lowest of the low.
However, we know that registers will not be enough. More than anything, we need criminal laws that work to destroy the business model of county lines. The police are working hard locally and the response, with the National County Lines Coordination Centre, has improved massively since I first raised these issues four years ago, but the business model continues to flourish and children are dying. Our response is simply not at the level needed to wipe out this form of child abuse.
The Met has told me that it has had 10 convictions to date, since the Modern Slavery Act 2015 was implemented five and a half years ago. I asked the Government how many convictions for modern slavery offences there have been nationally, but they do not know. They have not known answers to many questions I have asked. Moreover, the 10-year drugs strategy launched last week barely even mentioned the criminal exploitation of children.
We need a commitment and a strategy to end the abuse of children through the drugs trade completely within the next few years. To do that, we need all public agencies joined up, we need information, we need resources, and we need to change the law. We need dedicated offences for modern slavery, and they have to do the job. What about where it is someone’s role to groom children to be criminally exploited by others? Currently it can be hard to fit that into the framework of existing offences, and we should deal with that.
We need to understand that this is about the business model that incentivises drug gangs to exploit children again and again across the country. When drug offenders are sentenced, child exploitation must be an aggravating factor and carry a really big penalty. It has to become too costly for the exploiters, the groomers and the gang leaders to use children in that way, or to tolerate it from those they work with. We need to destroy the economic model of this crime.
We have to go further. Organised drug crimes are complex, and there are often many layers and, sometimes, little proof of a direct link of knowledge between the children being exploited on the street and those who are living in luxury in gated communities, profiting at a distance from their misery.
I have urged the Government to go after those at the top for many years but, despite the best efforts of my police service and despite serious innovations in cracking phones and using the data gleaned to secure prosecutions, there is simply not enough direct proof in many cases to make those at the top accountable for the method of distribution at street level. So, I want us to consider what we could almost see as a corporate liability approach.
No one proven to be leading a drug supply operation that profits from child abuse should be able to escape a massively higher sentence by pleading ignorance of the practices further down the supply chain. It should be enough for us to prove that they facilitated the actions of the exploiters—by laundering money, by supplying drugs or weapons, or in any other criminal way. Nor should we be requiring a victim to testify, not for crimes where violence is rife. That would not be fair.
We need to give the most powerful people in the criminal underworld a huge incentive to clean house and stamp out county lines for good. If they do not, and if a street gang that they are supplying is grooming children and traumatising communities, they will pay a heavy price on top of the sentence for their direct offending. Put simply, those who do criminal business with child abusers like Isaac Donkoh should be held responsible for the consequences—for the lives lost, for the lives destroyed, and for the fear and the grief that my constituents endure.
We must take concerted, sustained and strategic action to end the child exploitation business model for good. I believe that this Bill takes us some way to doing just that. I humbly request that the Bill be given due consideration and passed into law.
Question put and agreed to.
That Ms Lyn Brown, Florence Eshalomi, Robert Halfon, Catherine McKinnell, Charlotte Nichols, Janet Daby, Stephen Timms, Kate Osamor, Sir Mike Penning, Ms Karen Buck, Marsha De Cordova and Stella Creasy present the Bill.
Ms Lyn Brown accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 14 January 2022, and to be printed (Bill 220).