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PCC commissions hard-hitting production on child sexual exploitation and 'county lines' for frontline officers and pupils to protect vulnerable teenagers
Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, is to pay for a graphic drama production for schools throughout the county to drive home the dangers of the grooming of children by gangs - particularly those dealing drugs along so-called “county lines” - and was present to see a sample from the theatre company which is being delivered to every member of the Force.

A hard hitting production is being shown to all Bedfordshire Police officers to better explain the struggles some young people face when dealing with sexual exploitation by adults seeking to groom them at points in their lives when they are estranged from their families or schools or are otherwise vulnerable.

The unique production is being performed by theatre company AlterEgo at Bedfordshire Police’s annual Better4Bedfordshire training events. It is based on a real life story and shows how a teenage boy‘s life was turned upside down following the death of his mother which resulted in him being excluded from school and continually reported as missing to the police by his father, who suffered problems with alcohol. The production proceeds to show how the boy’s vulnerabilities were quickly picked up on by an older man who blackmailed, drugged and sexually abused him.

“There’s no way to sanitise what is going on in a world where a troubled teenager is seen as an opportunity by adults or older teenagers who first offer acceptance, hospitality and shelter only to suggest that this is a debt that the victim needs to pay off financially, sexually or both,” said the Commissioner.

“In Bedfordshire, as in other counties close to large urban areas such as London, gangs are exploiting young people to deal drugs and carry weapons on their behalf in operations known as ‘county lines’.

“Over the next year, every pupil over 11 in our schools will see a graphic production which does not pull punches over the dangers associated with “county lines” as the result of my Commissioning Fund,” she said. 

"The 30-minute sample play was watched by staff and officers of all ranks during their annual training and was very well received. Many of those watching, including the officers sitting with me, said how surprised they were at how realistic and genuinely emotive it was to watch,” said the PCC. 

Police Constable Tom Phelan, who works in the Response team for the south of the county, said: “As a frontline officer dealing with safeguarding day in day out, it can be easy to forget what genuine issues could be present behind the obvious. The play during Better4Bedfordshire had a huge impact on me, thoroughly reminding me of how important it is to look a little deeper during routine tasks, as it may be this extra attention which then exposes a bigger picture.

“I know that I will now look at my regular dealings differently, making sure that I keep the true story, which the production was based on, in the back of my mind as this may well help in identifying people in need of genuine intervention. I am really grateful to the actors in their portrayal of the story.”

Commissioner Holloway told officers and staff that she is to create a focus group of young people who have been involved in gangs and knife carrying or at risk of being entrapped where ‘county lines’ criminality is concerned, to comment on the scripts and help shape the full schools’ performance in the ‘county lines’ drama.

“I have a dread of poor theatre in education shows that just don’t sound realistic to the kids watching and get in the way of the message. What’s so impressed me about AlterEgo is that the production company is actively welcoming the involvement of young people from Bedfordshire and fully understands that even though it’s delivering performances in other counties, there are going to be subtle local differences that need to be built in for authenticity.”

Sean McGrath, Creative Director for AlterEgo Creative Solutions, said: “Missing the picture was especially adapted for Better4Bedfordshire events from applied theatre project – Crashing. The play was developed to raise awareness about the links between child sexual exploitation, homelessness, sofa serving and missing children.

“It also aims to highlight the behaviour which young people might exhibit if they are being exploited, behaviour that can too easily make them appear to be trouble makers when in fact it is a sign of their abuse. We would like to thank both Bedfordshire Police and Commissioner Holloway for their support and help to develop the programme.”

AlterEgo has previously delivered a production across Bedfordshire schools called “Chelsea’s Choice” about child sexual exploitation. “I’m told that at performance after performance of ‘Chelsea’s Choice’ pupils came up and disclosed abuse which they or those they knew had experienced. I have absolutely no doubt at all that this hugely talented group of actors and directors can create a production which makes an impact which pupils will remember all their lives, especially if they could get such a strong reaction from experienced police officers,” said PCC Holloway.