The head teacher of Dane Court Grammar School in Broadstairs says work is taking place with other schools, police and agencies to tackle coercion of youngsters by drug gangs.
He has denied national reports published yesterday (July 22) that he said police warned a pupil would be fatally stabbed but confirmed there are worries in the community about the issue.
The Sunday Times reported that Mr Fowler said the school had concerns about 20 pupils and claimed he said police had warned of the probability of a ‘fatal child stabbing of a pupil,” in the light of growing Count Lines activity with gangs from London and further afield grooming young people in the district to be drug couriers.
In May a male Sixth Form student was expelled from the grammar and arrested, accused of dealing drug MDMA at the school. No charges have been brought to date.
According to a new Kent and Medway multi-agency scheme to tackle the issue the majority of young people involved in gangs in the county are aged between 15 and 25 but extremely young children can also be targeted and groomed– the youngest reported in Kent was 10 years old.
Speaking to The Isle of Thanet News today (July 23) Mr Fowler said there were ‘a handful’ of students in the 1,200 roll school that were involved in gang activity but said this was part of an isle-wide problem experienced by every secondary.
He denied making a statement about a potential stabbing and has written to parents to reassure them this is not accurate.
He said: “We are saying there are more drugs in Thanet and kids are getting sucked into that. I think the situation is getting worse and, yes, it is the worst I have seen in 20 years. Other isle heads will say the same thing because it is not a problem for our school, it is a problem for Thanet and all of its schools.
“This is partly because of the social situation in Thanet and partly because many parents are having to work so hard that there is less supervision for their children, and that is in no way a criticism of parents.
“There are also less agencies to refer people to as services, such as for mental health, are cut.
“But we work really closely with Thanet Police and the Margate Task Force and other schools. We have got a programme of assemblies and work with mentors in tutor groups who talk to students in small groups and discuss issues openly. We issue guidance to parents and have meetings about keeping safe both physically and online.”
Dane Court Grammar also works with staff at neighbouring Charles Dickens school.
Mr Fowler said: “We have joint patrols which is a good way of sharing information. We work closely with the PCSOs who help out quite a lot and have a regular safeguarding forum where every school sends a representative..
“We do not want parents to panic but we do want them to be aware and informed.”
Earlier this year Paul Luxmoore, who is executive head of the Coastal Academies Trust which covers five schools in Thanet, also raised the issue of gangs targeting youngsters, saying looked after youngsters on the isle are being targeted by London drug gangs.
Kent’s gang strategy
A three year Kent and Medway gangs strategy, involving councils, police, education bodies and youth services, says Kent Police has formed Gangs Investigation Teams, dedicated to tackling gangs in each division. As part of this process a gangs matrix has been developed to help identify and map the individuals involved in gang activities and to assess the threat, risk and harm they pose. Kent Police has recruited 20 Youth Engagement Officers specifically to work with young people at risk of abuse and neglect, including through gang involvement.
The Margate Taskforce has achieved success in the identification of individuals vulnerable to gang exploitation by producing a network of individuals known to be involved in gangs and employing intelligence obtained from different organisations to map their relationships. This process was then used to identify schools that would benefit from awareness raising sessions on gangs and individuals who would benefit from a Family Support Panel.
The Taskforce has also used geo-mapping to identify ‘hot spots’ of activity that could then be targeted.
Modern Slavery legislation is being used to prosecute more gang offenders by protecting the trafficked victims of gangs and targeting the ring leaders of the crimes.
Enforcement is being used to discourage gang congregation and associated anti-social behaviour in public spaces.
Individuals at risk of gang involvement and their families are being provided with focused support and wrap-around services.
Dedicated teams in Thanet
Superintendent Andy Pritchard said: “We know that gangs will target vulnerable people, regardless of their age, across the country and this issue is not unique to Kent or Thanet. Criminals will use intimidation, bullying and violence to maintain control of their victims. However we have effective systems in place to identity those most vulnerable and safeguard them from harm.
“For example. in Thanet, we have dedicated teams that tackle child exploitation, with the help of partners, which makes it more difficult for gangs to establish themselves in the area.
“What is extremely important is for us to continuously raise awareness of this type of activity and encourage the community to look out for the warning signs, which include missing school, receiving expensive gifts, drug or alcohol abuse, hanging out with new groups and a change in their behaviour and appearance.
“Anyone concerned that a child is being exploited should report it and there are a number of organisations that can help depending on the circumstances. For more information visit https://www.kent.police.uk/advice/child-sexual-exploitation-(cse)/spot-the-signs/ or if a child is in immediate danger, dial 999.”
Crimestoppers – free, confidential service where you can give information about crime anonymously. Call 0800 555 111
NSPCC – information and advice to people involved in gangs as well as families and friends who are concerned. Freephone: 0808 800 5000
Family Lives – free advice on all aspects of parenting.
Anti-Bullying Alliance – advice on bullying.
Victim Support – a national charity helping people affected by crime.
ChildLine – a free, confidential helpline dedicated to children and young people. Call 0800 1111.