County lines drug dealing in Weymouth is set to get "significantly worse", according to a former undercover police officer.

Delivering the stark warning to a silent audience at Weymouth's Centenary Club, ex-detective sergeant Neil Woods said new tactics are being used by violent gangs, who manipulate and exploit children into dealing drugs as a way of evading police.

Mr Woods – who also trained undercover officers – said he abandoned his 23-year career because he believes the 'war on drugs' is exacerbating the problem, and that seaside towns such as Weymouth are being targeted at an alarming rate.


He told the audience: "County lines is partly my fault – if I hadn't had so much success infiltrating gangs, they wouldn't have started to use children.

"The situation is getting worse – it's a tactical, logical response by gangs to the police's success in catching dealers."

The former detective, who is now chairman of a charity – Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) – said he believes the police's success rate is incentivising organised criminals to become increasingly violent.

"The gangster who is scariest is less likely to be grassed up or introduced to an undercover cop", he said.

"The police are fantastic at catching drug dealers... but they never reduce the size of the market - they only change the shape of it.

"I've seen up close and personal what that changing shape looks like - it's increasingly violent."

Drug-related deaths in Weymouth and Portland have more than doubled over the past decade, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Dorset Police said that during a five-day crackdown in January, 38 people in the county were arrested on suspicion of drug offences - five of whom were juveniles.

Mr Woods, along with other campaigners at the event, are calling on legislators to take a fresh approach.

He said: "There was a time in living memory when gangs didn't supply drugs.

"When the Misuse of Drugs Act (1979) came in, there were only 1,149 heroin users in the UK.

"We've gone from a doctor with a prescription pad controlling the heroin supply, to 15 year-olds with weapons."

Mr Woods said current UK legislation is modelled on drug laws in the US, and wants to see policymakers turn back the clock.

"We urgently have to go back to the British way of doing things - that's the only way we can protect our children from organised crime and drugs", he concluded.

Dorset Police said it would not be able to comment on the law and national policy on drugs.

In response to county lines dealing, Detective Inspector Charlotte Tucker, regional coordinator for county lines, has previously said: "Every day more young people and vulnerable adults are targeted by these gangs, and the challenge of dismantling these lines is a very real one, not just for law enforcement, but for safeguarding, health and education professionals.

"As a region, we continue to strengthen our response.”

The Taking Drugs Seriously event was hosted by the Transform Drug Policy Foundation and charity Anyone's Child.

A joint campaign has been launched calling for changes to the law that would see legal regulation of drugs, with a focus on public health instead of prosecution.

The charity plans to visit parliament on June 26 - which is the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking - to present their case to MPs.

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