by Dave Manson
I got a call in the office from the duty Inspector, asking me to pick up a young lad who had run into a local chip shop and hidden under the counter. He was, we found out later, being hunted by gangsters who had forced him to work for them.
On arrival, I saw a young, skinny little kid being pinned to the ground by the chip shop owner. He wasn’t resisting and he wasn’t being aggressive. He was simply laid on his side, on the shop floor and talking calmly to the owner. Once he was allowed to stand up, we could see the relief in his eyes.
When we told him that we would drive him home, he begged us not to do that. The fear on his face was palpable. Tears filled his eyes and he pleaded with us, “I need help! Can we go for a drive and I will tell you what’s going on?”
As we drove out of the area, Steven’s* story unfolded. He was 14 years old. An only child raised by a single mum in a very run-down, poverty stricken area. Mari* did her best to raise her kid right. She’d done a good job as far as the police were concerned because, up until this point, Steven had never appeared on our radar.
The trouble started a few months previously, when Mari couldn’t afford to pay her dealer for the cannabis she enjoyed smoking at the weekend. The dealer kept telling her not worry, to take the weed on “tick” and pay when she got sorted. She tried to refuse but the dealer insisted and kept bringing her more.
But after a few weeks he turned up at their door, totally out of the blue, and insisted on payment. Steven said the dealer, who was just a local 18 year old lad they both knew, told his mum that she had better pay or later she’d be “getting a visit from Bryce*”. Of course, Mari couldn’t pay.
Bryce was a well-known figure. A mid-level dealer and a nasty piece of work, looking to rise up the ranks. He wasn’t a man to be in debt to. That evening, Steven said, they were watching TV together when there was a knock at the door. His mum opened it and Bryce walked straight in with three other men. He pushed Mari against the wall and demanded his money. But he said the debt was £500 when Steven’s mum had only owed the local dealer about £100.
When she couldn’t pay, Bryce went to his car and came back with a black and red rucksack. In the rucksack, he said, was “40 of each” which meant 40 wraps of heroin and 40 wraps of crack cocaine. Mari was instructed to hold onto the bag overnight, and that somebody would be around the next day to collect it. If she did this, the debt would be wiped. Steven’s mum agreed.
Steven told us he didn’t believe Bryce and thought something was going on. When he said as much to his mum, she told him to “shut-up” and never tell anybody about what was happening.
Later that night Steven and Mari were watching a movie together when their front door was suddenly kicked open and two men dressed in black and wearing balaclavas rushed into the house. One man was holding a large hunting knife and the other one brandished a baseball bat.
They knew that Mari was holding drugs for Bryce and they said that if she didn’t hand them over, they would cut Steven. She handed over the drugs and the men left, taking Steven’s XBox console and games and his mum’s laptop as they went. There was nothing anyone could do – people do not call the police to say they have been robbed at knife-point for the local gangster’s Class A drugs.
The next day, Bryce turned up at the house and he was furious. The drugs debt, he said, was now £5,000. It would get bigger every week and people would get hurt if it wasn’t paid in full.
Bryce gave them three options. Either they could pay what was owed, or Mari could have sex with Bryce and his gang as and when they wanted until the he decided the debt was repaid, or Steven could work off the debt by dealing for Bryce.
After much arguing and fighting with his mum, Steven agreed to go to work for the gangster. I will never forget his words when he told us, “They can do what they like to me but they’re not touching my mum!” In the weeks that followed he was put to work as a street dealer. He was regularly taunted with the threat of his mum being raped if Bryce thought he wasn’t working hard enough.
Then we got to the day in question. What had made Steven run into the chip shop and ask for help? He told us that he was taken to a flat by Bryce and his cronies to pick up some ‘gear’. The flat was used to store drugs and money. He knew about the place already but he’d never been invited in before. He was nervous and thought he was about to be hurt. He said people had been taken into this flat and beaten on many occasions.
Steven was told to go sit in one of the rooms where he said there was nothing but a sofa, a TV and an Xbox. It was his Xbox. The same machine that was taken by the men who’d kicked his front door in and stolen the drugs. Steven said he felt sick and wanted to cry with anger. Then Bryce walked into the room. Over his shoulder he wore the same black and red rucksack that had contained the drugs “stolen” from his mum.
In that moment Steven saw red. He threw the Xbox controller and struck the gangster square in the face. Fearing for his life, he jumped up and fled the flat before anyone could catch him. He kept running as Bryce and his accomplices got into the car and chased after him.
His chest was pounding as he hid in a graveyard for at least half an hour before trying to walk home. But Bryce hadn’t given up the search and the teenager was soon spotted on the main road. As the drug-gang’s car spun around to catch up to him, Steven ducked into the chip shop to hide and that’s when we were called.
Bryce had staged the whole robbery and enforced an unreasonable debt in order to coerce a 14 year old boy into dealing drugs. A young, single mother on low income had an impossible drugs debt imposed upon her. She was forced, through fear of increased debt and threatened violence, to hold onto Class A drugs to write-off that debt. And when the drugs were stolen (if indeed they ever actually existed) Mari and Steven faced the impossible choice between a mother being brutally and repeatedly sexually assaulted and having a son exploited by criminal hoodlums.
Sadly, Steven later retracted everything he’d told us. He and his mother refused to provide a statement or speak to police any further. I can only imagine the terror and misery they experienced in the weeks that followed.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
Dave Manson is a former police officer and a member of LEAP UK. He writes about his experiences and current policing issues on his blog, Frontline 999.