The number of children and young people being exploited by London gangs to move drugs into Suffolk has halved, despite demand for drugs being “very high” during lockdown.

Children as young as 10 have been caught dealing drugs and the movement of London dealers into the county has been attributed to a rise in violence in recent years.

Last year, Suffolk was in the top 10 UK counties where the Metropolitan Police identified the most youngsters involved in the county lines trade, with 238 found across the county.

Ipswich also featured in the top 10 county towns, with 65 young people found to be tied up in the county lines trade there.

But the latest report released by the Mayor of London’s office, called Rescue and Response, reveals those numbers have been slashed, with county figures falling by more than 50 per cent from 238 to 113. Ipswich numbers also dropped to 45.

Eastern Daily Press: Drugs, cash and mobile phones sezied by police in Suffolk in their efforts to tackle county lines. Picture: SUFFOLK POLICEDrugs, cash and mobile phones sezied by police in Suffolk in their efforts to tackle county lines. Picture: SUFFOLK POLICE (Image: Archant)

The fall in numbers took Suffolk out of the top 10 in this year’s report.

More than 3,000 young people were identified in the report as being involved in the drugs trade overall, with the youngest dealer aged 10.

During lockdown demand for drugs remained “very high”, according to the report, and police found dealers posing as key workers to avoid suspicion.

“Young people were likely forced to work in the counties for longer and harder to meet demand, with some boroughs reporting longer missing episodes during lockdown,” the report said.

Last month Suffolk council leaders and chief executives announced they had set aside a further £1.1m to tackle county lines over the next three years, with specialist hubs to be set up in Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds.

A national crackdown also resulted in 11 arrests last week in Suffolk.

Police executed nine search warrants during the week and recovered £800 in cash as well as seizing cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis along with four weapons.

Detective Chief Superintendent Eamonn Bridger of Suffolk Police said the key was using shared intelligence. “Through education and sharing information, we can make sure that everyone recognises the signs of exploitation and ensure that young people get the help and support they need,” he said. “Our strategic operations, including those with other forces, has been vital in dismantling the networks that cause harm in our communities.”