COVERT operations to stamp out ‘county lines’ crime resulted in a six-figure Class A drugs haul being seized during a crackdown, police have revealed.

The scheme, led by the National Crime Agency from May 13, resulted in crack cocaine and cash worth £120,000 being seized from offenders involved in peddling drugs on main routes in and out of Barnsley and South Yorkshire.

Eleven people were arrested as part of the crackdown. They have all been charged and are awaiting prosecution for a host of offences for drugs and modern slavery offences, relating to their exploitation of vulnerable teenagers.

Police told the Chronicle two vulnerable people, who were allegedly being used to peddle drugs, were also identified as part of the crime reduction project and subsequently safeguarded.

So-called county lines - a term used for crime associated with gangs crossing borders to expand their drug network - is said to have become a problem for police bosses.

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They believe South Yorkshire as a whole has been seen as a hotbed for organised crime groups (OCGs) thanks to its road links to West Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Humberside.

Detective Superintendent Pat Twiggs said: “Police are committed to tackling all forms of criminal exploitation including county lines through our ongoing work and activity.

“During the recent intensification week we deployed specialist officers and staff to tackle the issue head-on and continue to develop our response and understanding of this issue on a daily basis.”

Barnsley Council’s ruling cabinet members will also discuss the

matter, following an ongoing consultation with schools across the town, and will set out a plan involving a ‘multi-agency approach’ to deal with county lines exploitation - particularly the involvement of vulnerable children - on June 24.

South and West Yorkshire forces are working together to combat county lines crime, with officers in both marked and unmarked vehicles patrolling on-the-border routes, including Penistone and Royston, used by gangs.

“We are currently monitoring a small number of organised crime groups whose activity centres around county lines crime and regularly hold strategy and review meetings to plan action and coordinate our response with neighbouring forces,” Det Supt Twiggs added.

“This style of organised crime is insidious and the effect on communities and the individuals caught up can be devastating.

“It’s something we are aware of and have been taking action to combat for some time. Much of it, however, has been covert work.

“We would urge anyone with information or concerns to contact the police or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.”

Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, said protecting vulnerable children being targeted has become a priority for officers due to Barnsley’s high number of looked-after children, of which there are an estimated 200.

“Criminal gangs no longer advertise their presence - they keep a low profile because they are not interested in territory, but money,” he added.

“They don’t want to draw attention to themselves and they would prefer for the authorities not to know about them, which is where the young people come in.

“The gangs want to use children who are ‘clean skins’ - not known to the authorities, especially the police.

“They recruit vulnerable young people into the gang for the purposes of taking drugs around, often out of urban centres to towns and villages elsewhere - county lines.

“It’s really serious and we must crack it. We have to stop it before it gets a hold in our communities.”