Teenagers 'coerced into Fagin life'

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Police are studying evidence that a new Fagin is luring youngsters to London where they are coerced into a life of doorstep selling under threat of torture and beatings.

The youngsters are apparently tricked into coming to the capital by advertisements in local newspapers promising excellent rates of pay to teenagers looking for labouring work.

But according to the London Evening Standard, the adverts are used by a man said to have convictions for kidnapping, robbery and assault who boasts of earning pounds 250,000 a year.

His activities appear to be reminiscent of the Dickens character who lived off the ill-gotten gains of boys whom he taught to pick- pocket.

In the article, the 31-year-old man, who was named by the Standard, said in response to allegations by four teenagers: 'They have vivid imaginations.'

The youngsters, known as knockers, are instructed to look scruffy as they sell household items door-to-door such as dusters, tea-towels and oven, gloves at inflated prices. Force is used to ensure sales targets are met. One 17-year-old claimed he was beaten with a plastic hose and threatened with electrocution and having his finger cut off.

A 19-year-old told of how he answered an advert in the South Wales Argus offering up to pounds 180 a week for labouring work with free accommodation. He claimed that he ended up living in a suburban terrace in Harrow with up to 10 other 'knockers'.

Police said yesterday that they were studying the allegations.