CHILD involvement in drug crime has been described as a “modern day tragedy” as police figures reveal more than 300 youths have been arrested over drug supply offences in the past four years.

Suspects as young as 12 have been taken into custody on suspicion of drug dealing in Dorset.

Figures obtained by the Daily Echo through the Freedom of Information Act show 304 under 18s were arrested from the start of 2018 to the end of 2021.

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These arrests include a wide range of class A, B and C drugs, such as crack cocaine, heroin and most frequently cannabis.

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner David Sidwick said: “Young people being involved in drug crime is a modern day tragedy.

“In my Police and Crime Plan there are priorities to cut crime, to fight violent crime and high harm and put victims first and young people being involved in drug supply hits all three of those priorities.

“The work that the Safer Schools and Communities Team do to educate and divert young people away from getting involved in drugs is essential if we are to prevent and deter young children and teenagers from a potential life of crime.”

The Dorset Police figures show that while the number of youth drug supply arrests had dropped during the pandemic, scores of children were still being detained on suspicion of being involved in criminal activity every year.

In 2020 there were 79 such arrests, while last year there were 58. The figure peaked over the past four years in 2019 with 99 arrests.

Mr Sidwick, who is Association of Police and Crime Commissioners co-chair for substance misuse and addiction, said education was key to tackling the problem.

“I truly believe that there needs to be a generational shift with children being taught about the dangers of drugs at a younger age,” said Mr Sidwick.

“A lot of education and prevention work happens in secondary schools – but we need to get ahead and get the message out to younger children. There also needs to be more emphasis on tackling illegal gateway drugs such as cannabis, ketamine and MDMA, which can often be a young person’s first experience with banned substances.

“I will continue to support Dorset Police and our partners in the work they are doing and I vow to keep this subject at the top of my work agenda.”

Dorset Police’s Child centred policing Inspector Kerry Shelley said: “Dorset Police is committed to reducing crime involving young people across the county and protecting our communities. We also want to work with our partners to keep young people safe and deter them from getting involved in drugs and related offending.

“The force works closely with schools through the Safer Schools and Communities Team to divert young people away from crime and educate them in relation to the dangers of drugs. We also work with the Youth Justice Service and other partner agencies to ensure that young people who do commit crime are provided with education, intervention and support to prevent reoffending.

“Dorset Police also works in conjunction with the drugs outreach services in Dorset for any drug-related offences involving children.”