HOME Secretary Priti Patel paid a visit to Southend town centre today to meet police leading the charge in tackling County Lines drugs dealing gangs.

Ms Patel, MP for Witham, heard from Op Raptor South about their work in the borough with Southend Council, and how they care for vulnerable children and adults who are targeted by the gangs.

She then joined Temporary Chief Insp Ian Hughes, and the Town Centre Team on a foot patrol, where officers demonstrated first-hand the impact of a visible presence when it comes to spotting the signs of drug activity and other suspicious behaviour.

County Lines desribes drug gangs from big cities who expand their operations to smaller towns, often using violence and exploiting children and vulnerable people to sell drugs.

Chief Insp Hughes said of the visit: “For me, it’s really important to showcase the hard work of our officers and the realities that they face when they go out on patrol, whether that’s in uniform or plain clothes.

“Across Essex, one sighting of a drug deal can lead to a stop search, which can lead to a valuable bit of intelligence, and we can work on unpicking that piece of evidence to eventually topple an entire county line.

“By getting intelligence from members of the public, or having it shared through the hard work we do with our partners like Southend Borough Council, we can work together to stop the vulnerable in our county from being exploited by criminals, whether that’s young people who get sucked into this lifestyle, or people who are sadly dependent on drugs.

“In addition, our Operation Sceptre patrols take place across the county every day to tackle knife crime, which so often goes hand-in-hand with the violent behaviour associated with county lines.

“My message is clear: we won’t tolerate this kind of violent, exploitative behaviour in this district, or in our county. We will find you and we will bring you to justice.”

For more information about helping someone who may be caught up in county lines or gang activity, you can visit Fearless.org.

To report crime you can call us on 999 in an emergency or on 101. You can also speak to Crimestoppers completely anonymously on 0800 555 111 or submit a report in complete confidence via their website.