POLICE are working to “take out” kingpin gang leaders who are recruiting children, an inspector has revealed.

During a wide-ranging interview with the Echo, Insp Scott Fitzmaurice, from Essex Police, outlined the relentless work to tackle gang culture.

It comes after Essex Police revealed 15 teenagers from two gangs - the Leigh Lot and the O Block - were linked to drug dealing, violence and anti-social behaviour.

The gangs have now been banned from entering parts of Southend, Rayleigh and Leigh.

Insp Fitzmaurice said: “We are certain these gang members are involved in county lines drug operations and it’s on quite a large scale in and around Southend.

“There is big demand for crack cocaine and heroin in the areas and these gangs are helping to provide drugs.

“We are now specialising in taking out the middle and higher tiers of the gangs and these are the people who recruit the kids.

“We focus on reduce the amount of people able to recruit the young people.

“We also try to encourage the children to diversion programmes.

“These youths who are banned have been visited by staff from agency Justice and Care and they are offered case workers.”

He also revealed a teenager was arrested last week after breaching a banning orders and being spotted in Warrior Square, Southend.

He said it has been dealt with by the courts and the teen was given a supervision order.

Police are also probing the gangs’ potential links to the murder of Lee Chapman in Southend in March 2020, the murder of Luke Bellfield in Leigh in February this year, as well as a disturbance in Southend in August 2020 where a man died and another suffered life-changing injuries.

Insp Fitzmaurice added: “We also keep offering them help and encouraging them to take it and if they are arrested we still offer the help. While other officers will keep patrolling the exclusions zones and engaging with the community and residents and working with the council’s CCTV and security teams.”