15 people, including a 16-year-old boy from Merseyside have been arrested since the beginning of October as part of North Yorkshire Police’s response to so-called “county lines” drug dealing.
County lines is the name given to a type of organised crime in which drug dealers from urban areas such as Manchester, Liverpool and West Yorkshire, exploit children and vulnerable people and force them to travel to smaller towns such as Scarborough, York and Harrogate to sell drugs – often using violence and intimidation. It takes its name from the phone lines used to communicate between towns and to advertise drugs for sale.
The dealers at the centre of county lines also use violence and threats to take over the homes of vulnerable people, often drug users themselves, or people with mental or physical disabilities, to store and sell drugs in a tactic known as “cuckooing”.
Detective Chief Inspector Graeme Wright of North Yorkshire Police, who is leading Project Shield, the force’s response to county lines, said: “There has always been drug dealing, but ‘county lines’ is of particular concern to the police due to the exploitation of vulnerable people and the violence used to control them.
“It is now a major priority for North Yorkshire Police and the arrests over the past few days are just part of our response to the situation in North Yorkshire. They follow around 200 arrests made across the county since April this year.
“The protection of vulnerable people is a key focus and forms part of our overall response which ranges from enforcement and disruption to ongoing welfare checks on victims of cuckooing, safeguarding measures and drug intervention referrals, working jointly with partner agencies.
“Our aim is to make North Yorkshire a hostile place for county lines activity and members of the public can play a big part in supporting this action by looking out for suspicious activity and reporting it to the police or Crimestoppers.
“Local people know their neighbourhood and what looks right and what doesn’t. Drug dealing is a hidden crime and victims don’t come forward to the police so information from members of the public is vital and could be instrumental in helping us to protect a vulnerable person or disrupt the supply of drugs in their neighbourhood. We would also ask people to look beyond the obvious, a person may be a drug user themselves for any number of reasons, but they may also be a victim of violence from people who are using them to sell drugs on their behalf.”
The latest arrest took place on Friday morning (12 October 2018) in Scarborough when officers executed a warrant under the Misuse of Drugs Act at a property in the town. A 44-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of possessing class C drugs and theft. Officers seized drugs from the premises, items suspected as being used in the supply of drugs including, weighing scales, sim cards, a mobile phone and suspected stolen property including a passport and bank card. The woman remains in police custody.
It follows two arrests in the Filey area , seven in York, two in the Thirsk area, and three in Harrogate since 1 October.
At around 9am on Wednesday 10 October, offices executed a drugs warrant at a property in Bell Farm in York where they found four people, including a 16-year-old boy and 18-year-old man, both from Merseyside, along with a man and woman from York. All four were arrested on suspicion of drug offences.
The 37-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of supplying of class A drugs, possessing heroin and possessing cannabis, a 37-year-old man from York, and the two from Merseyside were were arrested on suspicion of supplying class A drugs and money laundering.
The woman and 37-year-old man have been released while under investigation. The 16-year-old boy and 18-year-old man have been released on conditional bail while the investigation continues.
In a separate incident in Thirsk on the same day, officers arrested a 21-year-old man from Middlesbrough on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of class A drugs. He has been released while the investigation continues. Cash and equipment believed to be used in the supply of drugs were also seized from the property.
The previous day, Tuesday 9 October, two men were arrested in the Filey area aged 27 and 52. Both were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply class A drugs. They have been released while under investigation.
On 8 October, a 47-year-old man of no fixed address was arrested in Harrogate and later charged with possessing heroin. He is due to appear at Harrogate Magistrates’ Court on 25 October.
On 5 October a 34-year-old York man was arrested in the city on suspicion of supplying class A drugs and money laundering. He has been released while under investigation.
On 4 October an 18-year-old man from Manchester and a 37-year-old woman from York were arrested after the vehicle they were in was stopped on Bootham in York. They were both arrested on suspicion of possessing class A drugs with intent to supply. They have been released while under investigation.
On 3 October a 25-year-old Bradford man was arrested in Harrogate and charged with possessing class A drugs with intent to supply, and money laundering. He was remanded in custody and appeared at York Magistrates’ Court the following day where he was again remanded in custody and sent to Crown Court for trial.
On 1 October officers stopped and searched a 41-year-old man on East Parade in Harrogate who was arrested on suspicion of possessing class A drugs with intent to supply. He has been released while under investigation.
A further arrest for drug driving was made in the Thirsk area on 11 October after concerns were raised for the driver of a vehicle. The woman driver was tested for drugs at the roadside and subsequently arrested on suspicion of drug driving and possessing a firearm. It is suspected that the woman is also the victim of cuckooing, therefore welfare and safeguarding measures will also be taken.
Officers have also been holding a series of public engagement events to raise awareness of county lines and the “Trapped”* campaign and to encourage people to call in and report suspicious activity. They have also been carrying out welfare visits to cuckooing victims in Harrogate, York and Scarborough.
In York the Neighbourhood Policing Team have also been visiting hotels and guest houses to help staff recognise the signs of county lines and other types of exploitation such as human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.
What to look out for
The signs of cuckooing:
- Increased callers at a property
- Increase in cars pulling up for short periods of time
- Different accents at a property
- Increased antisocial behaviour at a property
- Not seeing the resident for long periods of time
- Unfamiliar vehicles at the property
- Windows covered or curtains closed for long periods
Gangs are increasingly using social media to recruit children who aren’t typically vulnerable, so everyone needs to be alert to the following signs:
- Persistently going missing from school or home and / or being found out-of-area;
- Unexplained money, clothes, or mobile phones
- Excessive receipt of texts / phone calls
- Relationships with controlling / older individuals or groups
- Leaving home / care without explanation
- Suspicion of physical assault / unexplained injuries
- Carrying weapons
- Significant decline in school results / performance
- Gang association or isolation from peers or social networks
- Self-harm or significant changes in emotional well-being
If you suspect a child you care for or know is being exploited, please call the police on 101, if they are in immediate danger, always call 999
DO NOT approach anyone you suspect is involved in drug dealing. Please report it to the police on 101, or to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. If a person is in immediate danger, always call 999.