THE public have been urged to report any signs of criminal exploitation in Bradford, as the problem becomes more prominent in the public consciousness.

Child criminal exploitation involves criminal groups grooming children into a life of crime, promising them friendship and money if they do things like deal drugs or commit thefts for them.given an update on efforts to tackle exploitation of children and vulnerable adults at a meeting on Monday.

It marked the first time the annual report, which details the impact of child sexual exploitation in the District, has also included a significant emphasis on criminal exploitation.

The most recent figures show that in August there were 311 children in the district flagged as being at risk of child exploitation. Of these 51 were flagged as “significant risk.”

149 were flagged as being at risk of criminal exploitation and 162 of sexual exploitation. Of the total 148 were female and 163 were male.

Jane Booth, Chair of the Bradford Safeguarding Children’s Board, said: “This time last year we were talking about how we were all familiar with child sexual exploitation, but were just getting our heads around child criminal exploitation.”

New figures highlight ‘stark reality’ of child exploitation in Bradford

She said lockdown had meant many vulnerable children had become hidden from the view of social services and public bodies, but that they were “not hidden from risk of exploitation.”

One aspect of criminal exploitation was “mate crime” - where people befriend a vulnerable person with a view to encourage them into a life of crime.

Superintendent Steve Greenbank told members about “county lines” gangs - groups that often transport the young people they have groomed to other areas of the country to commit crimes for them. Children from Bradforden taken to places such as Lincolnshire and Humberside to sell drugs for gangs.

Bradford Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe asked what people needed to look out for to spot the signs of exploitation.

Supt Greenbank said: “Young people often become secretive, they have more expensive clothing and new products, a change in attendance at school, and they have new friends. But these are not their friends, they are people who are using them.”

Heather Wilson, senior youth work manager on the Council, said: “We are seeing increasing numbers of young people being exploited. There is a lot of good work going on with these young people. We have windows of opportunity to support them to break away from this exploitation.

“They don’t see themselves as being victims, and believe these criminals are their friends. But there is violence, coercion and control. Many young people accrue drug debts, often quite significant ones, they then have to pay off.”

Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe said: “We have to shine a light on this activity so public can make that call if they see it happening.

“With the residents of the District being our eyes and ears we can tackle this issue.

“It does anger me that children are being exploited by criminal gangs before they have even finished school, and this is dictating what happens to them in the rest of their life.

“These people need holding to account. If you see something that looks wrong, then report it. We have to look at what is happening and let the authorities know.”