POLICE have issued a list of signs to help spot whether children are involved with criminal organisations.

Lewes Police warned parents that “county lines” gangs use vulnerable children and adults to sell drugs across county boundaries.

A spokesman said: “Have you noticed any of the following in people you know? Persistently missing from school, unexplained acquisition of money or excessive receipt of texts?”

It advised anyone who notices this behaviour to call 101.

Sussex Police have launched Operation Fortress which aims to reduce "drug supply and drug related harm".

A spokesman said: "County Lines is a recent term used by police and partner agencies to refer to drug networks that originate from large urban areas such as London to more rural communities.

"These can be run by both gangs and organised crime groups, both of whom use children and young people and vulnerable adults to carry out illegal activity on their behalf.

"Gangs dealing drugs is not a new issue but the extent to which criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults, as well as the increasing use of violence, has become an inherent part of it through county lines makes it especially damaging.

"The organised crime groups tend to use a local property, generally belonging to a vulnerable person, as a base for their activities.

"This is known as 'cuckooing' and will often happen by force or coercion.

"In some instances victims have left their homes in fear of violence. A large part of our work here involves identifying these victims and helping them.

"The police continue to see children being exploited by criminal gangs to supply drugs in Sussex. 

"We have experienced children travelling from London to our county to deal drugs on behalf of gangs, as well Sussex children being exploited and targeted by London gangs to deal drugs locally. 

"Our priority is to identify those children at risk of criminal exploitation and, once identified, work with partner agencies to put the appropriate safeguarding measures in place."