SOUTHEND and Basildon attract some of the largest amount of young drug dealers from London gangs, new figures show.

A new report from London City Hall, which details the reach and type of county lines activity going on in the capital, shows that between January 2018 and April 2019, 121 individuals referred to the City Hall-funded Rescue and Response programme had links to Essex.

That’s more than any other county in the UK besides Norfolk where there were 416 links and Hampshire with 369.

This included 36 from Southend and 30 from Basildon.

The programme aims to provide support to young people in London involved in county lines gangs. County lines refers to gangs forcing vulnerable individuals – including children as young as 11 – into trafficking drugs from large cities to rural areas.

The trouble and misery caused by drug gangs, knife crime and county lines operations is increasing in Essex.

Essex Police has its own team, Operation Raptor, which works specifically to tackle drug related crimes in the county.

Martin Terry, cabinet member for community safety and customer contact at Southend Council, said county lines drug dealing was “their number one focus”.

He said: “This type of activity is absolutely horrendous. It ruins people’s lives and creates a lot of crime behind it. It often picks on vulnerable people.

“The figures come as no surprise to me whatsoever. I think what’s happening in Southend is happening as a result of under-resourcing of the police, but I do think we are starting to turn the tide.

“We have the knife arches that have been put up in the town resulting in some arrests. It’s our number one focus.

“We are doing all we can and we are constantly trying to find ways to get resources for Southend, and these figures justify our efforts.

“The resources have to go where the crime is.”

Some £500,000 of extra funding to tackle so-called county lines gangs has been allocated from Essex County Council.

Tory council leader David Finch says county lines drugs gangs are “a real and present danger to communities up and down our county”.

Kerry Smith, deputy leader of Basildon Council, said more needs to be done to stop children from getting snared by drugs gangs.

He said: “We need to get better a nipping the problem in the bud.

“The main issue is policing numbers which means whilst they want to be stopping the problem, they are just reacting when it’s already happened.

“By the time the kids are found and arrested, they have already committed awful crimes and their lives are affected forever.

“I get a lot of complaints from residents who see drug dealing from car windows and kids on push bikes coming up and taking the deliveries.

“Police want to be there, but they don’t have the resources.”

Essex Police’s Operation Raptor group works specifically to tackle drug related crimes.

Funding for 20,000 new officers was announced by the government earlier this year for counties across the UK.