Warnings on coercion and blackmailing over smartphones went unheeded, say experts, as child exploitation spirals

A failure to grasp how technology and social media is being used to coerce, control, blackmail and track the movements of children as young as 11 by “county lines” drug gangs has seen an epidemic of child criminal exploitation spiral out of control in the UK.

“For the past seven or eight years we have been warning the government, the authorities, teachers, anyone who would listen, that technology is the central organising feature of the county lines business model,” said Sheldon Thomas, a consultant on gang behaviour through his organisation Gangsline.

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