The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) is collaborating with law enforcement and third sector partners including Action for Children to develop a pilot scheme to protect children and young people from being exploited by Serious Organised Crime Groups (SOCGs).
The initiative is being taken forward under the auspices of the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce.
It will involve raising awareness of criminal exploitation and promoting information-sharing between relevant agencies to enable early intervention and protect young people from being drawn into criminality.
Scotland’s Solicitor General, Ruth Charteris KC, said the pilot scheme would focus on raising awareness to enable early identification and intervention to tackle this type of offending behaviour.
She said: “Organised crime creates a pernicious danger to communities throughout Scotland and adversely affects all those who live in these communities.
“It carries a very human price and inflicts a very damaging toll on many people.
“We are working closely with stakeholders and partner agencies to protect children and young people from being enticed into organised crime and keep them safe from harm.
“Greater sharing of information will ensure agencies have the full picture and will assist in diverting young people from involvement in criminality.”
The Solicitor General’s comments come following her recent visit to the offices of Action for Children in Edinburgh to see for herself how the charity’s long-running Serious Organised Crime Early Intervention Service protects vulnerable young people from being exploited by organised crime groups.
The programme first launched in Glasgow in 2013 and has since expanded to Cardiff, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Dundee.
The success of the initiative was recognised in 2019 when it won the Excellence award at the European Social Service Awards.
The programme uses peer mentors with lived experience of serious organised crime to reach and meaningfully engage with young people who are at risk of being exploited.
This relationship has been key to its success and has helped support young people to move away from criminality and onto positive pathways through education and employment.
Paul Carberry, Chief Executive of Action for Children, helped create the programme and has overseen its expansion and development.
He said: “Organised crime has a disproportionately high impact on the most disadvantaged, marginalised communities throughout the UK and has a significant cost implication if it is not addressed early.
“Working in collaboration with partner agencies has also been crucial in our ability to effectively address the issue early on. The success we have witnessed with our programme is a testament to this and illustrates the effectiveness of a proactive action which aims to give young people possible alternatives and the possibility of a brighter future.”
Stephen McGowan, Deputy Crown Agent Serious Casework for COPFS, said the multi-agency pilot scheme would focus on raising awareness about criminal exploitation and disrupting efforts by SOCGs to recruit children and young people.
He said: “Training and awareness-raising has an important role to play in addressing common misconceptions about young people who are targeted by criminal gangs.
“This includes ensuring frontline police and prosecutors are aware of the potential for young individuals who are committing criminal offences to be the victims of trafficking and exploitation.
“Our priority is to work with our partners in the SOC Taskforce to ensure that Scotland is a hostile environment for anyone committing serious organised crime or seeking to involve children or young people in criminality.”