Drug crime is soaring in west Dorset as gangs move out of the cities to target the more rural areas.

While offences appear to be decreasing in larger areas of population, drug-related crime is on the rise in our communities.

Dorset has been singled out as one of the areas where towns have seen an increase in recorded drug crimes over a five-year period, defined as possession or supply of illegal drugs.

In Bridport there were 26 offences in 2013 but this shot up to 47. For the same period the crimes for Lyme Regis went from 1 to 8 and in Beaminster the increase was from 0 to 2.

The police data on drug crimes for towns was obtained by the BBC.

The increase is attributed to 'county lines' drug dealing – city gangs using young people to ferry drugs to smaller places and set up operations there, often taking over the homes of vulnerable addicts (cuckooing).

County lines is an increasing concern, with many local neighbourhood policing teams listing it as one of their top three priorities.

West Dorset MP Sir Oliver Letwin said of the data: “What this shows, above all, is that we need to intensify efforts to lead more people out of chaotic lifestyles based on drug dependency, and into recovery and rehabilitation.”

Meanwhile, Edward Morello, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for West Dorset said: “We are seeing a trend of criminal gangs looking to expand into new markets further away from the big towns and cities, and West Dorset is not alone in being targeted by these groups.”

Mr Morello claimed the increase in crime was the result of government cuts to front line services and called for a 'visible and active police force' in the community.

Superintendent Caroline Naughton, of Dorset Police, said: “We are committed to protecting vulnerable members of our community from being exploited by county lines drugs gangs as part of our wider efforts to disrupt the drug supply network in Dorset.

“Protecting the vulnerable and tackling the supply of drugs, which we recognise has a detrimental impact on local communities and is often linked to violent crime, will always remain a priority.

“As well as working closely with other forces across the country and the Regional Organised Crime Unit, we have developed a neighbourhood policing response to drug-related issues and protecting vulnerable people who are at risk of exploitation linked to drug taking and supply.

“Our local neighbourhood officers regularly patrol areas that are known for street dealing and carry out safeguarding visits on vulnerable people living in our communities to help build the local intelligence picture, deliver enforcement activity and safeguard those at risk.

“The significance of local knowledge and understanding of victims and offenders has led to the increase in safeguarding and partnership engagement, intelligence and successful investigations and outcomes, and therefore the reporting of drug-related offences and incidents has increased. This has been achieved through effective neighbourhood policing and this is why their focus on tackling county lines is important."

Supt Naughton added: “Dorset Police knows that county lines is not a problem that can be solved by police efforts alone. We will continue to work with our partner agencies and our communities to tackle the issue and send a clear message to county lines gangs that they are not welcome in our community.

“We want to reaffirm that Dorset is not a safe refuge for drugs supply chains and any person coming to the area intending to be involved in drugs or dangerous drugs networks will be thoroughly investigated.

“We rely on members of the public reporting information to us and have been making proactive efforts to raise awareness of the signs that someone could be involved in a county lines drug network.

“Further information on county lines and details of how to report concerns that an individual is being exploited can be found on our website at www.dorset.police.uk/county-lines.”