THREE children were allowed to live in a flat that county lines dealers had turned into a drugs den, the Gazette can report.

The youngsters, all of school age, were forced to stay in one bedroom so drug dealers from London could sleep in the other room as they used the Basingstoke house as a base to package up crack cocaine and heroin.

After this newspaper launched its investigation into county lines last week, one woman has spoken out on the condition on anonymity to highlight the impact the issue London drug dealers had on her family.

Laura*, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is the stepmother to her partner’s three children from a previous relationship.

She has told the Gazette how she and her partner raised concerns with Hampshire County Council about the living situation of the children, who were living with their biological mother in South View in January but it took eight months until they were taken out of her care.

“This all started at the beginning of the year. Their mum made friends with some men from London who knew her neighbours. That’s how she was introduced into this drugs network.

“That’s what these dealers do. They find people who take drugs and slowly move in on their lives,” Laura told this newspaper.

“We had suspicions she was using crack cocaine. Dealers were using her flat to wash up their drugs. We had videos of her partying with them,” she said.

The practice is known by authorities as ‘cuckooing’, where dealers befriend drug users in towns outside London and use their property - either by force or with consent - as a base to operate from.

This week, Hampshire has been named as the county with the second highest activity of county lines. 

Between January 2018 and April 2019, 4,000 people in London were found to be operating drug networks across 41 counties - with Hampshire being the second-most targeted area, behind Norfolk.

Despite raising the claims with Hampshire County Council back in January, Laura said authorities were slow to respond.

A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council: “We thank the Gazette for bringing this to our attention but having looked at our records, based on the information provided, it does not appear that this family is known to Children’s Services.

"We will be happy to investigate further if additional details can be supplied. Any information received will be treated in the strictest confidence.”

Laura told this newspaper: “Dealers were coming and going from the flat all the time. They were in and out, in and out, in and out.

“When the children came to stay with us they told us they were “scared” of the big men from London,” she said.

In one shocking incident, Laura claimed one dealer used her middle stepchild - a six-year-old boy - as a ‘human shield’ during a raid at the property.

“He was about to get Tasered when he grabbed Jacob* and held him in front of him and ran towards the window, he nearly jumped,” Laura alleged.

The information was recorded in a police report by Hampshire Constabulary.

The three children also had to share one bedroom so drug dealers from London could stay in the other room. The downstairs of the house became a 'drug factory' where dealers would 'wash up’ drugs, a practice where they bag up illegal substances to sell.

It all came to a head in September when the flat in South View became a crime scene after a fatal stabbing.

The flat was raided but thankfully, the children had been taken into the care of Laura and their biological father’s care shortly before. The family has now been moved for their safety. 

But the journey has not been an easy one, with Laura receiving threats about being “gang raped” and “beaten up” for getting involved. She said thugs threatened to "stamp on my baby's head". 

Despite the threats, Laura said she feels sorry for the mother: “It’s frustrating, she once had three beautiful children, a lovely home and a parter who was working but she threw it all away for crack.”

Speaking about the affect it has had, Laura said she worries about their health.

“The children have a much happier life living with us now, anyone can see it, but they have been scarred. One of them used to sleep under the bed because he was so scared. 

“It makes you worry. None of their teachers picked it up at school. It makes you think about other cases are being ignored or allowed to get worse,” she said.

On her decision to speak out, Laura said: “We just want to be heard, that’s all. It’s not good enough that children were allowed to be exposed to drug dealers for months at a time. It’s not good we weren’t listened to.

She added: “We have offered the children a home from the beginning, but social services have insisted on keeping the children with their mother, despite evidence which showed she was a using drug addict.”

A report published last November highlighted the issue authorities have in safeguarding children from ‘cuckooing’.

“If the person is said to have capacity for making their own decisions and isn’t suffering from a recognisable condition or disability and they want to stay in the property, services cannot and will not take further steps unless they move to eviction proceedings,” it stated.

The report, carried out by Niche Health and Social Care Consulting on behalf of NHS England, highlighted that ‘housing related support services are very thin on the ground’.

It reported: “In the past, dealers and gangs would be well aware that professionals would visit properties regularly and that would help protect the property.

“However, with the demise of these support services, dealers are able to move in and out of properties with impunity."

  • If you are worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact the NSPCC for professional help, advice. You can email or telephone 0808 800 5000.
  • The Gazette is investigating the impact county lines is having on Basingstoke. Speak to a reporter in confidence about your experience. Email or call 01256 337444