WEAPONS, cash and illegal substances were seized during a major crackdown on drug-dealing gangs operating across Hampshire.

Almost 50 people were arrested during the week-long operation, which also resulted in police safeguarding 28 potential victims.

Police chiefs set out to prevent criminals in major UK cities bringing illicit drugs into Hampshire.

Officers say those involved in so-called county lines networks use fear, violence and intimidation to force young people and vulnerable adults to commit drug-related crimes.

Warrants were executed in Southampton and other parts of Hampshire, including Portsmouth, Basingstoke and Andover.

Officers seized more than £17,455 in cash, plus six knives and 39 mobile phones as well as carrying out prevention work with schools, hotels and taxi firms.

They also homes to check they had not been taken over by drug dealers.

Chief Inspector Mark Lynch, who led the operation, said: “County lines is a continuous threat to our communities. Drug dealers bring misery, fear and violence with them - they don’t care what damage they cause.

“Organised criminal groups use county lines to prey on the most vulnerable. Where there is county lines there is often an increase in violent crime as rival networks come into conflict.”

Superintendent Matthew Reeves, Hampshire Constabulary’s tactical lead for drug-related harm, added: “We looked to use the week of action as a way to publicise our work and make sure people know how to spot the signs of county lines and that they can report it.

“By highlighting the good work we do it gives local people confidence in our commitment to tackle drug-related harm and serious violence in our communities.

“Many of our successes are a direct result of information provided to us by the public. It is important that anyone who has suspicions or concerns around the supply of drugs reports it. I would urge anyone who is concerned about someone who may be involved in this activity to contact us or one of our partners.”

As well as targeting those involved in county lines crime, Hampshire police also attempt to educate potential victims, seeing it as an important preventative measure.

Superintendent Reeves added: “What is often overlooked when we talk about drug dealing networks is that there are genuine victims that get caught up in the county lines business.

“Hardened criminals will deliberately target the most vulnerable and exploit them to carry out their illegal work. These are often young people and adults with mental health, addictions or unmanageable debt.”

In a police statement a victim told how his home had been taken over by drug dealers from London.

He said. “They just turned up one day and said ‘we want to do business from here’. They pulled out their knives - it was horrible.”