REPORTED drug crime in Bridport is on the rise but the proportion of people charged with offences has averaged only 24 per cent.

A Freedom of Information request by The News revealed that between 2012 and 2016, only 35 people were charged by police for drugs supplying offences in the Bridport, Beaminster and Lyme Regis areas - despite 582 drugs crimes being reported during the same period.

Over the last five years, 138 reported drugs crimes have resulted in a suspect being charged with an offence - including 55 for possession of cannabis, 47 for possession of other drugs and 35 charged with trafficking drugs.

Last year, police carried out 113 stop searches in Bridport for the purpose of finding drugs – while the youngest person searched was 15 years old.

No teenagers were arrested for drug supply offences in 2013 but five were arrested in 2015 and six were arrested in 2016. Only three people under the age of 18 have been arrested in Bridport, Beaminster and Lyme Regis for drugs possession offences during the last four years.

Bridport Neighbourhood Policing Team has earmarked drugs crime in Bridport, under Operation Upkeep, as one of its top three priorities.

Police Sergeant Jamie Clark, of Bridport police, said: “Over the last three years we have witnessed in Bridport what is known as ‘county lines’, where drug dealers from larger cities try and establish themselves in smaller towns to increase drug markets.

“We have been working proactively to tackle this issue and have carried out a number of successful covert operations that have resulted in significant prison sentences given to those involved in the supply of drugs.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News:

A haul of cannabis seized by police in Bridport

“Each case is considered individually and various circumstances will determine whether a charge and prosecution is the appropriate course of action or whether alternatives that are available to us such as out of court disposals and education are more suitable."

He added: "The overall number of offences in Bridport is still relatively low compared to many areas.

“I would ask the community to support our efforts in tackling drug-related crime in the town by reporting any suspicious activity, such as a high number of short-term visitors to an address or small gatherings of people in secluded areas.

“The county lines networks will target vulnerable members of the community and effectively take over an address for a short period of time in order to distribute drugs from that location and I would urge anyone who believes this may be taking place to contact police.”

Cllr Ros Kayes said: "What worries me most is the increase in drug use and access to drugs among teenagers and younger teenagers.

"Bridport is second only to Weymouth in the deprivation league tables - so the recession is hitting some of our residents hard. Families are struggling. For people who lead chaotic lifestyles, access to drugs when you experience poverty seems to offer some way out."

Cllr Kayes pointed towards lack of police resources as to why the rate of those charged has remained low.

Sarah Hilliard, deputy service manager of EDP Drug & Alcohol Services in Dorset, said, “There are wide ranging effects of drugs and alcohol that impact on the individual, their friends, families and co-workers as well as the local community. "EDP believes that people can and do make remarkable changes and as such provide a confidential, personalised support services for all those affected by alcohol and drug use, as well as those concerned about a friend, colleague or family member.”

Anyone in need of support or advice can visit EDP Bridport in Downes Street which is open Monday to Wednesday and Friday and can be contacted on 01308 427195.