BIG city gangs armed with guns and running heroin and crack cocaine into Rhyl are being targeted in a ground-breaking campaign.

The extent of the problem has been uncovered by the North Wales Police’s intelligence unit, headed by Detective Superintendent Sian Beck, which has profiled serious and organised crime across the six counties of North Wales.

Their reports have identified eight gangs known to operate in Denbighshire - also concentrated around Denbigh and in Abergele, Conwy - on with almost half of the criminals from Merseyside. Manchester and West Midlands gangs are also involved.

Det Supt Beck said: “Gangs operating the County Lines drug supply model are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs, they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence and weapons."

There are at least 11 distinct County Lines active in Conwy and Denbighshire, five in Flintshire, one in Wrexham, and five in Gwynedd and Anglesey where Bangor is a hub second only in size to Rhyl in North Wales.

Half the gangs originate on Merseyside and their vulnerable recruits and customers are subject to punishment beatings and even knife attacks if they fall behind in their payments to their drugs overlords.

Det Supt Beck added: “The fact that these gangs prey on children and vulnerable people is utterly despicable

The reports were called for by the North Wales Safer Communities Group and their chairman, Denbighshire Cabinet Lead Member for Safer Communities, cllr Mark Young.

He said: “I was shocked to discover the extent of the activities of these criminal gangs across North Wales but it’s real and we can only deal with it if we know what’s happening."

As a result, Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones has made the fight against Serious and Organised Crime one of his key policing priorities.

Cllr Young added:“The fact that the commissioner has given clear leadership on this and is fully supportive of the fight against serious and organised crime is really important for North Wales.

“It’s vital that we follow that up by pushing home the message of community safety and partnership working.”

Arfon Jones, a former police inspector, said: “North Wales Police are leading the way in Wales in tracking and tackling organised crime and among forces of our type we are at the forefront."

“Much of it is under the radar because they are unlikely to report the fact that they’ve been beaten and threatened but the work that has been done has pointed to the presence of criminal gangs and it is important that we tackle them.”