The Home Secretary has thanked police officers for their "hard work and bravery" in tackling county lines drug gangs.

Priti Patel heard from Op Raptor South during a visit to Southend on Saturday.

She was told about their successful work in the district with Southend Borough Council, and how they safeguard vulnerable children and adults.

She then joined Temporary Chief Inspector Ian Hughes, and the Town Centre Team on a foot patrol.

Chief Inspector 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.”

Ms Patel said: “County lines gangs exploit our children and terrorise communities and we will not stand for it.

“Operations against county lines gangs are showing extremely promising results here in Essex where officers are arresting exploiters and safeguarding children who could be dragged into a life of crime.

“My thanks go out to the hard work and bravery of our fantastic police officers.

“We will continue to support their efforts in confronting this threat with 20,000 new officers.”

A report released by City Hall said 36 people referred to their Rescue and Response programme, which aims to support young people involved in county lines, had links to Southend.

According to the statistics, 121 people with Essex links were referred which also included 27 with Clacton connections and 43 with Colchester.

County lines refers to gangs forcing vulnerable individuals – including children as young as 11 – into trafficking drugs from large cities to rural areas.

The figures are likely to be higher as only 71 per cent of individuals in the Rescue and Response programme had a county name associated with them, and only 44 per cent a town.

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

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.