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How Manchester’s crime gangs get asylum seekers to do their dirty work
A new investigation reveals extreme violence and welfare concerns over asylum seeker children in Cheetham Hill. Plus: the latest in the Manchester City saga
Dear Millers — welcome to our weekly briefing. We hope some of you made it to the revamped Manchester Museum this weekend, which Joshi wrote about on Saturday and which drew queues of people as it opened its doors after 18 months. We got lots of reactions to our piece, including one from the museum’s director Esme Ward, who tweeted: “@ManchesterMill doing what it does best — critically and thoughtfully exploring all things Manchester.”
The story was also covered by the New York Times — see our recommended reads below — and our special podcast about the reopening was our most-listened-to episode to date. If you’re a podcast person and you haven’t given our one a try yet, please do have a listen. Every week we round up the news and give some analysis on what’s happening in the city region, but we also try to give some insights into our reporting process too. If you’re not a podcast person, you can listen on a regular web browser right here.
Jobs news: Our sister newspapers in Sheffield and Liverpool are hiring full time reporters — please tell your journalism friends. Both roles start in April and the deadline for applications is in just two weeks! They are perfect roles for reporters and writers who are starting off in their careers and would like to do the kind of journalism The Mill does — thoughtful, considered and in-depth. Whoever gets the roles will even get to work with The Mill’s team, because we collaborate a lot between the cities.
In case you missed it, last week we published two great editions for members. On Tuesday, Jack wrote about the complex world of speed dating in this fun Valentine’s Day edition, and then on Thursday, Mollie visited a student protest to see if it would change the world for the better (spoiler: the main action was short lived).
The big 2,000: This newsletter is going out to 31,825 Millers. If you’re not a member yet and you’ve been on the fence about joining, now would be the perfect time to get on board as we push for a huge milestone: 2,000 members! We were aiming to get there in time for our third birthday in June, but it now looks like we can do it much earlier. We passed 1,900 members this weekend and we’re now on 1,905. Just hit that button below to join the community, comment on our stories, get all our members-only journalism and get invited to our upcoming Mill Members Club events with local authors, the first one of which is happening next month.
🌤️ This week’s weather
Our forecast is from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says there are hints of spring in the air, but we can expect colder weather arriving on Wednesday.
Tuesday ☁️ Another cloudy and mild day with drizzle. Max 12°c.
Wednesday 🌦️ Colder with outbreaks of rain during the morning followed by bright spells and showers later. Breezy. Max 8°c.
Thursday 🌤️ Mostly dry with sunny spells. Feeling chilly. Max 8°c.
Friday 🌦️ Windy and mostly cloudy with showers. Max 10°c.
Weekend 🌤️ Turning dry, settled and pleasant.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: How Manchester’s crime gangs get asylum seekers to do their dirty work
Top line: An investigation by the Observer has revealed that missing asylum seeker children are being exploited by organised crime gangs in the “counterfeit alley” area of Cheetham Hill, after being kidnapped from hotels run by the Home Office.
How it happens: Unaccompanied children who arrive in the UK via small boats on the Channel crossing often remain in contact with the trafficking gangs who got them here. Crossing the Channel via small boat is estimated to cost between £10,000 and £20,000. Kidnapping and recruiting children to work in the drugs trade is used as a way of getting them to pay off any debt.
Neil Blackwood, the GMP superintendent leading Operation Vulcan, which was launched in September last year to crack down on organised crime in Cheetham Hill, said: “Large numbers go missing en masse — 20 to 30 Afghans in one go, [unaccompanied] kids too. Where are they going? They are brought to Cheetham Hill, scooped up by criminal enterprises and put to work.”
The details: The force is investigating a case of two asylum seekers from the Middle East, aged 13 and 14, who were coerced into selling drugs in Manchester.
Most of the children are from conflict zones like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Iran and considered extremely vulnerable and arrive in the UK with shrapnel wounds and scars.
Some have been trafficked into Cheetham Hill gangs from as far away as the south coast. Sussex Police have tracked down at least two children in Greater Manchester.
Welfare concerns: “In criminal terms, these are among the most threatening streets in Britain,” writes the author of the piece, Mark Townsend. There are thought to be at least 33 criminal gangs in Cheetham Hill, and the new criminal factions have to be aggressive to survive against established groups. Recently, officers rescued a 16-year-old Vietnamese boy from a cannabis farm who had scars from being whipped, beaten and tortured.
Worryingly, the success of Operation Vulcan might have made it harder for police forces to track down missing children. Since the operation was launched, more than 70 fake designer shops have closed, large amounts of drugs have been seized and organised crime groups have started to drift away from the area. “Such success has a downside,” Townsend writes. “Driving organised crime from the streets has meant its exploited children have disappeared too.”
Still missing: The Home Office minister Simon Murray has said that as many as 200 asylum seeker children are registered missing. One child protection source told the Observer it was “likely” that children missing from the West Midlands area may have ended up in Cheetham Hill. An Observer long read about the failed abduction of three child asylum seekers from a Brighton hotel notes that police receiving intelligence about the whereabouts of missing children is incredibly rare.
Bottom line: Next month, Border Force officials will be embedded within Operation Vulcan to trace new arrivals heading to north Manchester. Investigations continue into an incident from May last year where three children were rescued from traffickers abducting them from a Brighton hotel. If convicted, that would represent the first trafficking charges involving missing children from Home Office hotels.
Home of the week
A two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in an Edwardian Baroque-style building and former Shipping House on Princess Street just came on the market for £299,950. It has beautiful green tiling and high ceilings, with plenty of nice features (not including the penny-farthing bike, sadly).
Your Mill briefing
In recent weeks, we’ve been keeping you abreast of the drama in Bolton North East, the key constituency Labour is trying to win back from the Tories at the next election. The soap opera concluded this weekend when Kirith Entwistle — a former comms official at the Cabinet Office — was selected as Labour’s candidate. “She is nice and I think she will be good but she will have a rough time because the constituency party is full of cantankerous old lefties and she’s seen as being of the Labour right,” says one local source. Cantankerous old lefties of Bolton, please get in touch.
Heywood and Middleton has been another marginal seat that ambitious Labour people have been fighting like cats and dogs over — again, it’s a constituency the Conservatives won in 2019. Senior Rochdale councillors John Blundell and Danny Meredith were eyeing the seat but we hear they were both told that they needn’t apply on account of past mishaps. Now the selection race looks like a proxy war between the two men, with Meredith backing a young councillor called Liam O’Rourke and Blundell backing… his wife Elsie.
Talking of proxy wars, will the well-known rivalry between Qatar and the UAE soon be playing out in the football stadiums and boardrooms of Manchester? Bids are now in to be the new owners of Manchester United, including from Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his petrochemicals giant Ineos and from Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, chairman of one of Qatar's biggest banks. On the other side of town, Manchester City, owned ultimately by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the UAE, faces a long list of charges from the Premier League over its financial dealings. The New York Times takes an in-depth look at the allegations.
Writing in The Times Red Box newsletter this morning, Andy Burnham argues for Greater Manchester to play a role in employment support programmes across the country. The idea is to build on the success of the Working Well programme, which aims to get people with long term health conditions and disabilities into work, linking employment support with other services like housing, health and care. It is said to have provided a return on investment of £9.27 for every £1 spent. If you’re knowledgeable about how these programmes are working, please get in touch (email@example.com).
And finally: Wood Street Mission, a charity that supports families living in poverty in Manchester and Salford, needs your support. They’re in need of donations of good quality second-hand clothes and toiletries like new school bags, prams, buggies and sanitary products, but they particularly need clothing for older children at the moment. If you think you can help, they take donations Monday-Friday, 8.30-4.30pm. More details here.
Our favourite reads
A Museum Pivots to Become ‘an Empathy Machine’ — The New York Times
You’re probably now aware that Manchester Museum reopened on Saturday after a £15 million redevelopment. “Manchester is one among many museums and historic sites that are foregrounding minority groups and reassessing the colonial past to broaden their audience in multicultural Britain,” says this interesting piece. “That approach is dividing opinion, with some right-wing commentators and lawmakers objecting that issues of diversity were being placed above preserving the nation’s heritage.”
In this excellent long read, The Post’s Jack Walton takes a closer look at how anti-asylum seeker sentiment boiled over outside the Suites Hotel in Knowsley recently, providing the most comprehensive account of what happened that night. Untangling what exactly caused the riots — which included a police van being set on fire and placards reading “OUT, OUT, OUT” — the piece speaks to asylum seekers from Iran, residents living near the hotel and those who joined the protests.
The Terrifying Plushie Taking Over Gift Shops Everywhere — The New York Times
The influence of Huggy Wuggy — a mildly terrifying soft toy originating from an indie video game — is reaching children from New York to Manchester. Its popularity is “a strange lesson in the porous boundaries between media for many children, who are unwittingly led by Silicon Valley’s many and mysterious algorithms to follow their favourite characters no matter the context”, according to writer Magdalene J. Taylor.
Our to do list
Before we get into our usual list, this Saturday there’s a special concert at Manchester Cathedral to raise money for those affected by the terrible earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. Manchester Baroque are playing Spring from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and some other great works. There’s a 20% discount on tickets for Millers (meaning they start at £7.50) which you can redeem by clicking this special link.
🌎 The Manchester City of Languages is hosting a free online event to discuss why and how we should protect multilingualism. Reserve a spot here.
🎤 Head to the Seven Oaks pub for a weekly comedy night with a stellar line-up, featuring comedians who have appeared on shows such as Mock The Week and 8 Out Of 10 Cats. Grab a free ticket now.
🎭 Mill member John Tucker recommends visiting HOME to see how Will Young fares as an expat Dutchman in Song From Far Away, directed by Stockport-born playwright Simon Stephens. Tickets start at £11.20 and are available here.
🧘🏻♀️ If you’re in need of some zen, head to KAMPUS for an evening of yin yoga and a gentle sound bath, designed to prepare you for a peaceful night’s sleep. Tickets are £16.76 — get them here.
👔 Join Ben Whyman, manager of the Centre for Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion, as he discusses the “life stories of men’s clothes” as part of Manchester Art Gallery’s Dandy Style lunchtime talks series. Free tickets here.
⚽️ Ahead of Manchester United’s game against Barcelona, authors Nooruddean Choudry and Wayne Barton talk about Manchester United and Eric Cantona at the National Football Museum. Tickets are £7.89.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to flag up an event we should be recommending. For our glitteringly well-informed weekend to do list — which we send out every Thursday — hit the button below to join us as a member.