Ex-Gang Boss Says Drugs Money Is Fool's Gold
Sunday 1st November 2020
Published by Liverpool Echo / Daily Star
Back to News
Ex-Gang Boss Says Drugs Money Is Fool's Gold
John Burton is working to prevent young men getting caught up in the nightmare world of County Lines.
A former north Liverpool drug dealer who once masterminded a £1million trafficking conspiracy is now working with young people escape the clutches of County Lines type gangs.
Vauxhall man John Burton once invested the proceeds of his drug money in properties across Spain and lived out an enviable lifestyle complete with sun kissed villas and fast cars.

John assumed he was beyond the reach of the law until police burst into his home one morning and arrested him in front of his family.

In 2012 he was jailed for nine and a half years jail for masterminding a £1million conspiracy which sent regular supplies of cannabis, cocaine and amphetamine to street dealers in South Wales and the West Midlands.

John was later stripped of the homes and businesses he had acquired from drugs during a Proceeds of Crime hearing.

Today John, a fully reformed character, wants to keep young men away from the type of drug gangs he once presided over.

He now runs Inside Connections, a community interest company dedicated to breaking the depressing cycle of re-offending on Merseyside and across the UK.

John said he has been working and liaising with a range of youth service organisations and professionals across the region.

John, 49, believes that secure accommodation and steady employment can help prevent young men from being tempted by the easy cash offered by the new generation of ruthless drug gangs.

He said: "The dirty money that the gangs offer is not real money - it just leads to misery.

"I know because I have been around all that. Young people offered a few grand or more do not know what they are getting into. And when they do its too late. It really is fool's gold.

"We are trying to get young men to walk away from their mates and that life. It's hard, but we are trying.

"At Inside Connections we have been working with young people (YPs) both in and outside the Liverpool City Region, giving them a chance to engage in training and employment and many of those have gone on to secure full time jobs.

" It is a great feeling helping our young people change their lives. We have now started to be recognised for the good work we do. "

He said that his own background and that of his colleagues helps them develop a rapport with young offenders.

He said: "The core of Inside connections is lived experience and with over half of our team coming from backgrounds similar to a lot of the YPs.

"It's strange you know - as soon as the YPs know you have been in prison or care we gain their attention right away. It's like there is some trust established, and it’s then up to us to ensure we keep that trust.

"We guide young men toward the adult life program, which is all about stability, training and work. But we do have strict rules and regulations around what we do and before we house anyone they must consent to our rules."

And John explained that his own background was not a problem when liaising with the police forces across the region.

He said: "I gave a speech earlier this year at the Merseyside Police HQ in the city centre. I told them that the last time I saw so many coppers was on the day of my arrest. Fortunately they got the joke."

John said that he was concerned by the high rate of unemployment amongst the young, and realised how easily young men can slip into the orbit of drug gangs.

He said: "We have a very high rate of unemployment amongst 16 to 24-year-olds in the north west. This makes it difficult for some of our youngsters to say no to a few quid on the street. . In many cases they don't realise what they are getting themselves in to, and then it becomes difficult to get out.

"You then see issues such as exploitation, grooming and County Lines. Then they get arrested and end up in jail. That is the standard route."

John said that although his work was highly challenging, he was spurred on by success stories too.

He said: "We took four teenagers and four lads in their mid 20s who were getting into trouble and took them off the streets.

"We put them on site with one of the big construction companies in the city for a two week introduction to construction with a construction skills certification scheme card and a two week work placement on site with a potential job at the end.

John grew up in Vauxhall in the 1970s and 80s when heroin was sweeping through Liverpool's housing estates.

He said that on his own estate there were either drug dealers or addicts, and he chose to be the former over the later because the dealers had big cars and nice clothes.

He said his own experience on the street and in prison was now crucial when dealing with young offenders.

He said: " I chose to be a dealer because I did not want to be an addict. I always knew growing up I was going to jail it was just a matter of where and when.

"This all helps when talking to young men about making big decisions You have to remember is its very difficult to come away from your mates and even where you live and change your life.

"But if they are 100% sure they want change then we give them that opportunity to do so. We talk about our pasts and what got us in to trouble in the first place and how all the jail sentences took its toll on our lives.

"Being stuck in a cell for all them years has an impact on you, believe me."

John said that he understood that some crimes ruin lives and that he did not want to appear as someone who was soft on criminals.

He said: "We only work with low to medium risk offenders who we think deserve a second chance.

"We have to remember that people are in prison for a crime they committed and they must serve that time for their actions.

"However I strongly believe that more should be put into place for people leaving prison if they want to stop re-offending and help integrate offenders back into society.

"We find that a lot of people just want to be given somewhere to live, the ability to complete some training courses and get into employment.

"Imagine coming out of prison or care to no home, no money and no choices. So then the cycle of offending starts again.

"In recent weeks we have housed 10 people who have left prison with a Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service grant.

"These grants are given out to offenders leaving prison who have nowhere to go. They normally use the grant to go into a hotel, but when the money runs out they are on the street.

"At Inside Connections we find permanent, fully furnished properties for people coming out of the system. Then we provide full time work."

John said a lot of young people did not appreciate the implications of a criminal record.

He said: "There is still a huge stigma surrounding crime, drugs and gangs. I am working hard with employers to give some kids a chance but it is not easy. People need to realise that the mistakes they make as teenagers or young men can stay with them for life."

John said that he was recently encouraged by a new scheme launched by the Department for Work and Pensions which will help young people find work.

He said: "Right now I am really excited about the DWP kickstart scheme to help young people get work experience.

"Kickstart provides funding to employers to create job placements for 16-24-year olds who are currently on Universal Credit. This is part of the Government’s aims to create hundreds of thousands of new, fully funded jobs. The first placements are likely to be available from November. "

Sign up to our newsletter
Please select all the ways you would like to hear from Inside Connections:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails.  For information about our privacy practices, please see our privacy policy.