POLICE raided more than 100 Avon and Somerset homes suspected of being 'cuckooed' by county lines drug dealers.

‘Cuckooing’ is when dealers use violence, exploitation and intimidation to take over the home of a vulnerable person to use as a base for drug dealing. ‘County lines’ are gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into areas across the country using phones as 'deal lines'.

Gangs based in cities like London are targeting vulnerable people in towns in the Taunton and Bridgwater areas as well as across Avon and Somerset to sell class A drugs on their behalf.

As part of a week of action, warrants were executed at properties linked to drugs,

resulting in the arrest of eight men for offences including drug possession and supply, weapons offences and violent crimes.

Three men and three women have also subsequently attended a police station voluntarily for interview in connection with similar offences.

A 24-year-old man from Weston-super-Mare has since been charged with GBH and possession of an offensive weapon.

In total, 114 vulnerable adults were spoken to following welfare checks at 126 addresses in the Bath, Bridgwater, Mendip, Taunton, Weston-super-Mare, Yate and Yeovil areas. Two children were also safeguarded following the visits.

During the warrants officers seized quantities of tablets along with bags of white and brown powder believed to be class A drugs and multiple bags of cannabis.

Four knives, two imitation firearms and an air rifle were also confiscated along with a large amount of cash and mobile phones.

Detective Chief Inspector Kerry Paterson, force lead for county lines, said: "We all know drugs have a detrimental impact on our communities, with anti-social behaviour and other crimes such as theft and burglary committed by users looking to fund their habits.

"But county lines gangs also pose a significant threat to users who are especially susceptible to exploitation.

"Many do not view themselves as victims and are often manipulated into carrying out crimes or subjected to violence.

"We are committed to tackling those who inflict such harm on our communities, whether they are members of the public, people with substance misuse issues or children vulnerable to exploitation.

"In the past week, we have been able to speak face to face with more than 100 people who may not have otherwise proactively sought help, signposting them to support agencies and giving advice on how to keep themselves safe.

"We have also caused significant disruption to the gangs supplying the county lines in our force area, taking drugs and weapons off our streets in the process.

"It is important that everybody recognises the signs of drug activity and exploitation of vulnerable people."

Detective Inspector Charlotte Tucker, regional coordinator for county lines with the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit, said: "With 90 arrests and more than £50,000 seized across the South West in the past week alone, it’s clear there is targeted action being taken against lines operating in our region.

"Equally important is the work done to identify vulnerable young people and adults being exploited by drug gangs, which included visits to more than 200 currently or previously ‘cuckooed’ addresses.

"But, we know that every day more young people and vulnerable adults are being 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 well."