Drug dealer who recruited children is jailed

A 24-year-old drug dealer who employed children to help him sell crack cocaine and heroin has been jailed.

Two youngsters had been enlisted by Liam Atkins to supply Class A drugs in Southend from October, Essex Police said.

The force said Atkins was linked to the Pedro drugs line which operated from the West Midlands into rural Worcestershire.

Atkins, who lived at Ashanti Close in Shoeburyness, admitted drugs supply offences and was jailed for four years at Basildon Crown Court.

Police said they traced the dealer via a Class A drug user's phone and they searched his house on 23 January.

Investigators said that although others may have been involved at a level above Atkins, he held a management role in the operation.

On his personal phone, officers found messages relating to sourcing juveniles to run drugs for the operation.

Det Insp Rob Maile said: "The dangerous and risky work is undertaken by those they [dealers] can either exploit or enlist with the, often false, promise of financial gain or reward.

"Sadly, this often leads to the recruitment of children – either easily influenced or coerced into working with those holding the drug line phone."

"Children coerced or threatened into running drugs for lines like the Pedro line will be treated as victims."

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