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Stansted Airport Crackdown: Taxis in the frontline against child exploitation

Image credit: Essex Police

In an operation at Stansted Airport, officers from the Op Raptor team have taken a proactive stand against child exploitation, stopping 178 taxis and engaging with over 200 drivers and passengers during County Lines Intensification Week.

The operation, conducted in collaboration with Stansted Airport’s Community Policing Team and Chelmsford City Council’s community safety officers, aimed at raising awareness among taxi drivers and passengers about the signs of child exploitation and how to report it. At a strategic vehicle checkpoint en route to the airport, the team distributed 221 business card-sized QR codes linked to the Children’s Society’s Look Closer campaign. These QR codes provide crucial information on recognizing and responding to exploitation concerns.

County Lines drug dealing operations notoriously exploit vulnerable youngsters, manipulating them into transporting illegal substances and cash across the country, often through taxis or public transport. This coercive method highlights the urgent need for vigilance among those in the transport sector.

The initiative at Stansted marks the latest effort under Operation Bumble, which was launched in October 2022. This campaign aims to underscore the importance of spotting and reporting the signs of child exploitation. In addition to Stansted, the Op Raptor team has been active in areas including Southend, Colchester, Braintree, Harlow, and Grays, demonstrating a committed approach to tackling this pressing social issue.

This concerted effort underscores the critical role of the transport sector in identifying and combating child exploitation, urging drivers and passengers alike to stay informed and vigilant.

Detective Sergeant Mark Ghosh coordinates Bumble and said the operation is succeeding in raising awareness of the issue: “The main intention was to educate drivers about County Lines. They need to be aware of that children using taxis could be victims of exploitation.

“Previously, they told us they lacked the knowledge and confidence about who to report to. The positive sign is that now, drivers are showing us they’re keeping the information in their cars and know the signs to look for.

“Some were concerned that they wouldn’t be anonymous so we’re addressing that by directing them to the Children’s Society or Crimestoppers if that makes them feel more comfortable.”

Alongside proactive work in the community, the team have also been running training on spotting and reporting exploitation for a number of businesses, including a recent session for Nando’s delivered by the Serious Violence Unit’s Prevent Officer.

“The more people know about exploitation, the more we can do to safeguard victims,” added DS Ghosh. “If a child is being exploited, they may be carrying more than one mobile phone or have a large amount of receipts or cash and can’t explain why they have it in their possession.

“They may be a timid child travelling on their own or, alternatively, confrontational or aggressive because they are scared.

“They may appear out of place and may not know exactly where they’re going – they just know a general area.

“If this is the case, we’re asking people to make contact us or our partners so we’ve got a chance to safeguard these individuals as they may need our help.”


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