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Drug gangs in more than half of police force areas are selling drugs outside of their county

RAID: Police move in on a suspected drug dealer (Thames Valley Police)

GANGS in more than half of police force areas are selling drugs outside their own county, it has been revealed.

Drug gangs from more areas than first thought are sending youths miles from their homes to deal crack cocaine and heroin across the country.

More than half of the 43 police forces in England and Wales said they suspected drug dealers in their areas were exporting class A drugs to other counties, a National Crime Agency (NCA) annual assessment of the "county lines" threat revealed.

The NCA report said London is the biggest exporter with gangs there controlling 300 (15 per cent) of the 2,000 phone lines believed to be in use for county lines dealing.

Next is the West Midlands with 180 (nine per cent) and Liverpool with 140 (seven per cent), meaning 1,380 phone lines are run out of Manchester, Bristol and other smaller cities and towns.

BUSTED: A suspect is led away by police during a week of raids up and down the country (NCA)

Manchester and Sheffield are flooding small North Yorkshire towns like Harrogate with drugs.

But, gangs from even smaller towns are now exporting their drugs elsewhere due to huge levels of demand.

Some people classed as missing in their home town have been found dealing drugs hundreds of miles away.

Police in Scotland found a 15-year-old missing person from Liverpool during a warrant at an address more than 350 miles away in Aberdeen where 76 wraps of crack cocaine and 22 wraps of heroin were recovered.

In Gloucester officers found around £10,000 of crack and heroin.

One of the suspects was from Essex and a search of his home found two phones with evidence he was also running lines in Great Yarmouth, in Norfolk, and Welwyn Garden City, in Hertfordshire.

FIGHT BACK: A week of raids saw more than 600 arrests (NCA)

Every town in Hampshire has been affected, police said this week.

Coastal towns are the main importing areas and gangs are increasingly recruiting local children from new areas.

Nikki Holland, NCA director of investigations, said a series of raids across the country from January 21 to 27 saw more than 600 suspects arrested, 140 weapons seized, including 12 firearms, plus drugs and more than £200,000 cash.

A further 400 vulnerable adults and 600 children were found and given safeguarding help.

These raids exposed how far and wide people are being sent by the gangs.

Thames Valley Police arrested 106 people, seized £133,000 cash and helped 112 vulnerable people, including 43 children.

Officers found the drugs were being moved around Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire.

A NCA annual assessment of the threat said rail was a main way of travel for the drug mules.

The report said: "Rail network hubs such as Birmingham New Street, Clapham Junction, Manchester Piccadilly, St Pancras and Waterloo are key points of access to and exit from the rail network.

"Between May and August 2018, 35 per cent of suspects in county lines activity encountered on the rail network had links to possession of weapons within the previous six months, and 3 per cent were linked to possession of firearms.

"This is evidence of the ongoing risk to both British Transport Police and members of the public of use of the rail network by county lines offenders."

Duncan Ball, National Police Chief Council lead on county lines, said there is evidence of exploited children going on to set up their own county lines network and of youngsters, some aged 10 or 11, being used as drugs mules. They are enticed with cash and designer clothes, then kept under control through debt bondage and violence. They have also been made to carry out other crimes, including shoplifting. Gang leaders trick girls into thinking they are in a relationship

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