The number of children at risk from gangs in Essex has increased nearly four times in the past three years, new Government statistics have shown.

Social services assessed 10,938 children in Essex in 2018/19 and deemed 369 were either already in a gang, at risk of joining one, or at risk of violence from a gang.

This is an increase from 244 cases the year before - as many as the 98 cases seen in 2014/15, when figures were published for the first time.

Essex is one of the top destinations for young drug dealers involved in London county lines gangs, new figures have shown.

A report detailing the reach and type of county lines activity going on in the capital was also released from City Hall in London.

Epping Forest Guardian:

Essex is a popular county for young drug dealers linked to county line gangs.

It shows that between January 2018 and April 2019, 121 individuals referred to the City Hall-funded Rescue and Response programme had links to Essex.

Detective Chief Inspector Rob Kirby, of the Serious Crime Directorate, said after the operation last month: “County line gangs are ruthless, exploiting the vulnerable members of our community, from those using drugs to young children who think they offer an attractive lifestyle.

“These gangs sell drugs within our communities without a second thought for the harm they cause.

“They also won’t think twice about using violence against rival dealers or those who cannot pay debts and forcing others to perpetrate that violence for them.

“We will continue to work with our partners to tackle these ruthless criminals.”

Children under the protection from Essex County Council at risk from gangs increased from 79 cases in 2016/17 to 164 in 2018/19, a rise of 107 per cent.

These figures exceeds the stats average in England of a 66 per cent increase the same period.

Drug gangs, knife crime and county lines has been recognised by Essex County Council as a local, regional and national issue.

The council subscribed £640,000 to the Police, Crime and Fire Commissioner’s Office to further expand this multi-agency work to tackle the issue last year.

A meeting at Essex County Council today (Thursday, November 14) will be looking at how the council and other agencies can be best mobilised to “reduce the destructive impacts of gang culture in Essex”.

Officers have so far arrested 22 people during the purge on so-called ‘county lines’ drug dealing networks, uncovering £60,000 worth of drugs.