A NEW police unit has been created to protect vulnerable children and adults from the risk of being exploited.

The team will focus on identifying those who face the potential prospect of being used by criminal gangs.

Officers will focus their attention on children who regularly go missing, or people who are being groomed into working for drug gangs on county lines.

And Cleveland Police has appointed two new men to spearhead the taskforce with Superintendent Phil Bond, who previously worked at Northumbria Police, and Detective Chief Inspector Shaun Page, who has joined from North Yorkshire, overseeing the Complex Exploitation Team.

To launch the unit, officers carried out a warrant at a property on Cornforth Avenue in Berwick Hills, Middlesbrough, with the neighbourhood policing team, operational support, and the dog section.

A quantity of drugs, believed to be heroin and methadone was recovered. A 45-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply.

Detective Chief Inspector Shaun Page said: “The exploitation of children is child abuse and all children are vulnerable to exploitation, not just specific groups. Cleveland Police and partners will always put the safety of children first.

"The key to the success of our collective work will be strong partnership collaboration to identify vulnerable children and ensure we can develop solutions and intervene to prevent harm.’

“This form of abuse occurs in every community. Part of our renewed work will be to help communities in how recognise the signs of exploitation.

"Children will not see themselves as victims so the police and partners have a duty to work together to identify and respond to them. Child abuse destroys lives.

"We therefore need to be patient with the victims and be relentless against those who choose to harm them.”