DRUG dealers have been travelling to Southend in hire cars to throw police off the scent as they peddle their wares, it is claimed.

The dealers are said to be renting cars in London to avoid being flagged up on automatic number plate recognition cameras in Southend.

The cameras detect vehicles travelling into the town, and will alert police if they are known to be connected to drugs activity.

But if the dealer regularly changes their car, it becomes easier to avoid detection.

A worried resident, who would not be named, said he had repeatedly seen deals and had rung police.

The latest happened on Thursday, when he claims to have seen two deals happen in Southend town centre in the space of ten minutes.

The first took place in Wimborne Road when the resident saw two men pull up in a red hatchback before apparently being approached by a punter who then thanked them and walked off.

The resident said: “This was at about 5pm and then ten minutes later in Lucy Road another car pulls up, a guy and his girlfriend. Another guy walks up and gets in the back and they do the deal, he gets out and then they drive off.”

He said he had been spotting the cars and ringing police on the 101 number, but was regularly asked how he can know it is definitely a drug deal.

The operator then says there is no one to dispatch. He even resorted to following one of the cars for an hour while calling police, but had no response.

He added: “This goes on all the time. I’d love to be able to get a photo, but it’s so risky. It’s always in brand new hire cars. I’ve seen the sticker for some of the companies on them.”

Insp Matt Bennett, of Southend police, said even if a patrol car was sent immediately, the deal had been done.

He said: “By the time we get there they will be gone.” He said what was needed was as much information as possible so they can build an intelligence picture. He added: “We will try to identify them and predict their future behaviour.”

Anyone with information should call Southend police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.