OFFICERS have arrested eight men and three woman from both Runcorn and Widnes on suspicion of county lines drug offences.

During a week of action in Cheshire, police executed a number of warrants which resulted in heroin and cocaine being seized.

At least 12 people were identified as victims of cuckooing - when gangs take over a vulnerable person's home to use a drugs den.

These people were provided with specialist support and advice.

Officers also engaged with 24 vulnerable adults and children who could have been targeted or exploited by organised crime gangs.

A total of 19 individuals were arrested on suspicion of drugs offences across Cheshire during the week of September 14.

This includes three men and three women from Runcorn, aged between 18 and 50, and five men from Widnes, aged between 21 and 35.

Individuals from Middlewich, Northwich, Halewood and Liverpool were also arrested while a 35-year-old man from Macclesfield was arrested on suspicion of holding a person in slavery.

Meanwhile, Mark Vaughan, aged 52, of Frederick Street in Widnes has since been charged with possession of crack cocaine.

He will appear at Warrington Magistrates Court on October 6.

Detective inspector Eli Atkinson said: "Targeting those suspected of being involved in serious and organised crime, specifically county lines, is something we do relentlessly on a regular basis.

"The week of action enabled officers to go that extra mile by informing the public of what we’re doing and how they too can look out for signs of children and adults who are vulnerable to organised criminals and report it.

"Throughout the week we carried out a range of activity including disrupting gangs by making arrests and seizing drugs but we also had a big focus on identifying and engaging with people whose homes are being taken over by drug dealers.

"It is these victims who are at the centre of county lines and can often be forgotten which is why we give talks in schools, speak to residents in our community and visit businesses to raise awareness."

Following the arrests, James Simmonds-Read, national programme manager at The Children’s Society’s Prevention programme, added: "Bringing down the criminals who cynically exploit vulnerable children through these county lines operations is crucial.

"But it’s equally important that the children they have groomed, who may have been deeply traumatised by horrific violence, threats, and sexual abuse, are recognised as victims.

"Too often, these young people do not get the support they need, or are seen as having chosen to get involved in crime when they were manipulated and coerced.

"It is vital these children are protected from abuse rather than prosecuted and professionals must also get better at identifying children who may be at risk of exploitation sooner and offering timely help.

"We want to see the Government define child criminal exploitation in law and adopt a new national strategy to tackle the issue.

"This strategy should focus upon ending the postcode lottery when it comes to identifying and supporting young people who are exploited, alongside efforts to disrupt the criminals who have groomed them.

"Spotting the signs that a child could be at risk isn’t just a matter for professionals.

"That’s why we launched our Look Closer campaign alongside the National Police Chiefs Council and British Transport Police during this week of action.

"We’re urging staff who work in the service sector including in hotels, shops and in public transport to spot the signs a child may be being exploited and to report concerns to the police."

To report serious and organised crime please call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or Cheshire Police on 101.