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Merseyside Fire & Rescue Supports “EYES OPEN” Message to Drug Gangs Grooming Kids as Fire Engines Carry Powerful Messages

Merseyside’s Violence Reduction Partnership (VRP) is delighted that Merseyside Fire & Rescue (MFRS) is taking its powerful messages about keeping our ‘EYES OPEN’ to drug gangs grooming our kids on two of their fire engines in Kensington and Old Swan.

The messages, which are drawn from the VRP’s EYES OPEN campaign, which highlight the truth behind the lifestyles of kids who get groomed by drug gangs and asks the public to report suspicious activity, will stay on the fire engines for two years.

As fire engines are out in communities every day, the messages, which include helpline numbers and the campaign website www.eyes-open.co.uk, will be highly visible helping to make people more aware of the signs that suggest drug gangs are grooming kids and how to help.

The messages include:

  • “I didn’t know where I was. I had to search for it on Google maps to see how far I was from home.
  • “There were needles all over. You couldn’t see the floor. I had to sleep there.” 
  • New phone. New bike. New mates. New clothes. New habits. New attitude. The signs of grooming can be hard to read.

“As a partner organisation of the Violence Reduction Partnership, Merseyside’s Fire and Rescue Service is pleased to support the campaign by highlighting the EYES OPEN messaging. It’s crucial that our communities understand the destruction of young lives and families by criminal gangs as they groom kids to sell their drugs, locally and far from home.  We need people to recognise the signs and to report it,” said Gary Oakford, Area Manager, Prevention Directorate, MFRS.

“As an active and engaged stakeholder within all of the local authority Community Safety Partnerships, MFRS will gladly use its appliances to share these vital messages. It is an integral part of our work to keep communities safe, and free from threat and harm.”

Superintendent Mark Wiggins, head of Merseyside’s Violence Reduction Partnership said:

“During the Coronavirus lockdown, we have not seen evidence that drug gangs have stopped grooming kids on Merseyside. So, we are very pleased that the Fire Service has supported our EYES OPEN campaign and the need to reduce the risk to young people who are groomed by putting its powerful messaging on their fire engines. This includes helpline numbers for anyone affected by this sort of child abuse by drug gangs, and also places where the activity can be reported to help these young people, such as the NSPCC, Childline and Crimestoppers.

“It’s time we saw drug gangs for the abusers they are. Drug gangs are grooming kids in Merseyside every day. Grown men, and sometimes women, are grooming vulnerable kids who come from all sorts of backgrounds. They are coercing them to sell drugs, to be on the end of a phone line 24 hours a day to deliver drug orders, to store firearms and weapons, and to invade vulnerable people’s homes often hundreds of miles away from their homes to help the gangs make money. This has to stop.”

After London, Merseyside’s drug gangs are the second biggest abusers of kids, grooming kids as young as 10. The gangs groom kids by making them increasingly vulnerable, often buying the targeted kids gifts of clothes, food and bikes making the kids feel in debt to them but also making them feel part of the gang, or ‘family’.

Once groomed, the kids are sent away to other parts of the UK to sell their drugs, often hundreds of miles away from home. They can go missing from homes and schools for weeks at a time.

Posters and billboards are up around Merseyside saying: “Know what to look for. Know who to help,” which will explain the signs of abuse that people need to look for and the real experiences from a kids’ point of view.

Merseyside’s VRP’s campaign was rolled out to other counties in the North-West including Lancashire and North Wales on 30 March, and it has an educational booklet available as a PDF download on the campaign’s website: www.eyes-open.co.uk where there is also the artwork and animation, which you can also see on www.ourmerseyside.org.uk.

READ MORE: Merseyside organisation invites public of all ages to take part in free multi-arts digital project

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