CHILDREN are being targeted by "absolutely ruthless" drugs gangs in Dorset, officials have warned.

At a conference hosted by police and crime commissioner Martyn Underhill on Wednesday, representatives from a number of agencies talked about the exploitation of children by dealers.

The experts discussed new ways of tackling the drug dealing gangs who operate in the county during a series of workshops at the event.

Police in Dorset are dealing with a rising number of so-called 'county lines' cases, in which gangs from cities flood towns with class As.

In a single week in October, officers working in the county seized more than £23,000-worth of drugs and cash in a crackdown on the problem.

Thirty people were arrested across Dorset between October 8 and 14. One was a 14-year-old missing child.

A further 39 people identified as being vulnerable were given ‘safe and well’ checks.

Mr Underhill said: “County lines ruins lives.

"Not only does it bring the scourge of drug dealing into our own towns and villages, but the gangs involved are absolutely ruthless in the way they exploit young people and adults at risk of harm to do their dirty work.

"Dorset Police regularly patrols areas known for street dealing, and shares information with other forces across the country, but this is a problem that is larger than the police and requires a response from a wide range of organisations.

"This forum has brought these groups together to look at the problem from every angle and find sustainable and innovative solutions."

The forum took place at Wimborne's QE School. Superintendent Caroline Naughton of Dorset Police, Detective Inspector Brittany Clarke of the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre and Claire Dzuda of the Aster Housing Association were among those who attended.

Participants took part in workshops to identify areas of possible improvement.

A survivor of county lines exploitation from London-based charity St Giles Trust also spoke about their experiences of being used by drugs gangs.