A MASSIVE police operation has been launched to protect children and teenagers at risk of being exploited by criminals.

The Evening Times can today exclusively reveal details of the anti-crime blitz, which is underway in Glasgow.

Operation Woodrich will target the an area of the city, dubbed the Four Corners by beat cops, and is the culmination of months of intelligence work.

As well as stamping out child sexual exploitation and disrupting drug dealers, senior officers want to make the notorious area safer.

Chief Inspector Mark Sutherland, the officer in charge of the policing the city centre, said: "Operation Woodrich will focus on issues concerning the large groups of young people who gather in the area, some of whom are vulnerable. "One of my main concerns in the city is the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS), and the risk of vulnerable young people being exploited.

"Our aim is to keep people safe by supporting vulnerable groups while tackling anti social behaviour and disorder."

Extra resources have been drafted in and dozens of officers will be involved in the operation, which runs throughout the summer.

The campaign comes amid fears vulnerable children and teenagers gathering at the Four Corners may be lured into prostitution and drug-running.

Mr Sutherland, area commander, said: "The Four Corners area, including the Gordon Street corridor, has for many years attracted different groups and individuals.

"The majority of whom congregate and mainly enjoy everything the city centre has to offer.

"However, within these groups are a minority who are responsible for an unacceptable level of anti social behaviour, disorder and criminality.

"My message has always been clear, we want everyone to enjoy the city centre of Glasgow.

"But we will take swift and robust action against those who harm our community and commit crime."

At the centre of the Four Corners is the busiest McDonald's restaurant in Scotland, which has been plagued by problems.

The fast food outlet in Argyle Street was once the subject of 200 police reports in 14 months.

Operation Woodrich will also focus on preventing disorder and anti-social behaviour, which the city centre junction has become notorious for.

Among the incidents reported at the McDonald's were youths drinking, staff being verbally abused and customers refusing to leave.

On one occasion a man who had died from a drugs overdose was only found five hours after he entered a toilet cubicle.

Mr Sutherland added: “Operation Woodrich is a partnership approach to this problem and people will see increased high visibility patrols in the area.

"We will be focusing on long-term solutions by having the right officers, in the right place, at the right time.

"Our increased presence will look to deter criminality and reassure law-abiding members of the public.

"We will not be targeting specific groups including our homeless community and young people but we will target those who act in an anti social or criminal manner."

It follows an Evening Times story in 2014 which revealed almost 100 Glasgow children had been identified as victims or at risk of sexual exploitation.

Our investigation revealed, in the last three years, social workers have been involved in two police-led operations to investigate and respond to child sexual exploitation.

Among the problems they uncovered were young people in their mid-teens, who view exploitation as having a relationship.

A report to councillors stated: "It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of young people subject to child sexual exploitation in Glasgow, although the current operation with the police identified 97 children and young people who potentially were victims or are at risk of child sexual exploitation."

Criminals who target vulnerable young people and children also faced being banned from the city centre as part of the crackdown.

Specialist officers will also work to seize drugs, NPS, and booze from groups who loiter in the city centre.

Mr Sutherland added: "Months of intelligence gathering, and listening to what issues affect the community, have led us to carrying out this operation in partnership with Community Safety Glasgow.

"We will be targeting public drinking including underage drinkers and the locations where they hide alcohol, as well as the problem of so-called legal highs and drugs.

"I believe if we continue to seize alcohol, drugs, so-called legal highs, we will have an impact on disorder, anti-social behaviour, disorder and violence.

"Early intervention is key.

"But we can’t achieve anything positive without working with our partners, and the people who live, work, and visit the city centre."

Police believe picking up on warning signs, and educating the public to do the same, is key to stopping child exploitation.

Mr Sutherland said reassuring the public was a key part of the initiative.

He said: "If people have any concerns, tell us about them, we need to know.

"We have seen a huge reduction in serious and violent crime across the city centre.

"However, we need the help of the public to continue this success.

"We know members of the community and business owners are concerned about antisocial behaviour, violence and drugs and will be doing everything we can to make the area safer."

Ann Fehilly, Head of Strategic Services at Community Safety Glasgow, said: "Businesses and individuals have the right to a peaceful, safe and clean environment.

"And staff at Community Safety Glasgow are working with them to target and reduce crime throughout the Four Corners area.

"We work closely with our partners at Police Scotland and together we have a zero-tolerance approach towards anti-social behaviour.

"Anyone who is caught behaving in a way which threatens or damages people or businesses may well find themselves excluded from the area."