Police take over drug dealers’ phone numbers and text users in new fight against county lines gangs 

The move has come as new research shows that thousands of children are being placed in unregulated care homes, where they are at risk of exploitation of sexual predators and drug gangs.

The number of times children were housed in unregulated accommodation, where they faced no checks by Ofsted, rose by 22% between 2016-17 and 2018-19, from 4,814 to 5,874, according to data obtained from 112 councils by the Guardian.

This is significant because a recent parliamentary inquiry into children being used to traffic drugs found that 80% of 41 police forces in England and Wales expressed concerns about unregulated accommodation.

Ms Banks said that dealers often have “eyes and ears on the ground” and know the places where children hang around.

“They know who they’re looking for,” she said.

“They know how to spot kids that they can approach who are then going to take the free deal and then become hooked into this world.”