DRUG-related crime in Bournemouth has risen by more than 50 per cent in less than six years as gangs shift their operations from inner cities to market towns and the coast.

Shock new statistics show that whilst Bournemouth saw 276 drug-related crimes in 2013, that figure had reached 599 by last year, placing the town in the top 200 of locations where this type of crime has increased the most.

Poole fared little better, with a leap from 152 drug-related crimes in 2013 to 198 in 2018.

And Swanage, regarded as a sleepy holiday town, saw drug related crime leap from two incidents in 2013 to 13 last year.

The rocketing figures are regarded as proof of how far the 'county lines' phenomenon - the push from drug gangs to find new markets within commuting distance of their home cities where competition may be lower for 'market' share - has penetrated communities traditionally seen as relatively immune from this type of activity.

As an example St Leonards near Ringwood, where the average house price is £433,624, saw one drug crime in 2013 which had risen to four in 2018, with nine the year before. Shaftesbury and Gillingham saw medium increases with the picturesque village of Sturminster Newton recording another 'strong increase' in drug crime.

The stats also appeared to show that drug crime has increased in the Purbeck villages of Lulworth and Bovington. No drug crimes were recorded five years ago at Bovington but that number jumped to six in 2018. It was a similar story at Lulworth where figures rocketed from zero in 2013 to 13 in 2017 and 10 last year.

Dorchester also saw a doubling of rates, too but by contrast the nearest big cities - Southampton and Portsmouth to the east - saw decreases.

Superintendent Caroline Naughton, of Dorset Police, said the county was "not a safe refuge" for drug supply chains and that it was committed to protecting vulnerable members of the community from being exploited by county lines drugs gangs as part of its wider efforts to disrupt the drug supply network.

“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 for the Force," she said.

“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.

“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.”