A TOTAL of seven gangs selling Class A drugs are actively operating in Colchester.

Chief Inspector Rob Huddleston, the district commander for the borough, said two or three of those were thought to be people living in Colchester while the rest were county lines operations – people from larger cities, such as London moving out of the capital to supply Class A drugs.

Mr Huddleston said a range of tactics were being used to disrupt them, but warned they were moving out of the town centre into different, more rural, parts of the borough.

“Metropolitan gangs move out and bring misery and exploitation,” he said at Colchester Council’s crime and disorder committee.

“We have a lot of intelligence around drug dealing and a year ago there were 18 separate lines.

“Of those, 11 have been disrupted and are no longer operating in Colchester.

“Drug dealing tends to appear in pockets – Greenstead, sadly, seems to be a popular place and around the Hythe and towards Essex University.

“More recently, we are seeing more of our rural areas starting to be looked at by these gangs.

“It is not just drug dealing which they bring, it is the anti-social behaviour and, more worryingly, exploitation of vulnerable people.

“Our knife crime deployments have had a significant impact on drug dealing.

“Work to disrupt organised crime has to led to a lot of class A drugs being taken off the streets.

“We know a lot of the gangs we have taken action against are no longer in Colchester.

“Our Operation Raptor team [specialist drug officers] work across Essex and with colleagues in London.

“When raids are done in Colchester we want to follow it all the way and up to the top of the chain.

“Compared to a year ago, things have improved.

“There are probably seven active lines in Colchester and two or three of those are local people trying to establish themselves.

“We are focusing on making their lives as difficult as possible.”

Mr Huddleston said cuckooing – where drug users take over a vulnerable person’s home as a place to deal – was an issue in the town that did not happen often.

He said: “Sometimes it is difficult to identify because often they will be a willing participant until things get out of hand.

“What we do when it does happen is react quickly with our partners and we have had closure orders or partial closure orders where people can stay in their homes, but not have visitors.

“If they have a piece of paper saying ‘If you come in, then the authorities will be round,’ then it is effective.

“Drug dealers don’t want to be near anywhere if there is a risk of a visit from the police where their drugs or money might be at risk.”