POLICE woke up to the horrors of county lines drug dealing too late, it has been warned.

Thames Valley Police Federation chairman Craig O'Leary told the Oxford Mail that nobody could have predicted the evolution of the modern drug trade.

Recently, TVP chief constable Francis Habgood discussed working with other forces to crack down on county lines dealing.

The trend involves organised crime gangs moving from major cities like London and Birmingham into county locations throughout the country. It typically involves the exploitation of children or vulnerable people.

PC O'Leary said: "County drug lines are here and now and I think we’ve almost woken up to it too late.

"I think we’re doing great work to protect vulnerable people and get drug dealers who prey on the vulnerable out of people’s homes – but it is now a massive task."

He did not blame the force and noted it was a situation few could have predicted.

PC O''Leary continued: "Of course, what you don’t know you don’t know, and I don’t think anybody foresaw how big this was going to become.

“There’s a lot of work to be done but we are seeing good work in Oxford and elsewhere to get these people out of our communities."

Speaking recently to a meeting of the police and crime panel, police commissioner Anthony Stansfeld said that the Thames Valley picks up the 'junior end' of county lines.

He said that, while there are gangs operating in the region, the source of the problem generally lay within other force areas.

Mr Habgood said officers from the Metropolitan Police gave a presentation in Oxford in recent weeks.

He said: "They gave a presentation about what they have been doing locally to actually try to deal with some of these young people as victims of modern slavery and how we're getting a really good strong working relationship and those contacts are so important.

"So it was really reassuring actually to see the Met are tackling it at source in London, and we have the same sort of relationship with West Midlands [Police].

According to the National Crime Agency a typical county lines scenario involves a number of similar components.A group establishes a network between an urban hub, like London or Birmingham, and a county location to which drugs are then supplied.

A mobile phone line is established to connect customers to the supply.

The group exploits young or vulnerable people for storage and supply of drugs, as well as the use of dwellings – which is commonly referred to as cuckooing.