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Why looking out for each other has never been more important

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Detective Chief Inspector Emma Aldred talks about county lines drug dealing and how you can help.

County lines refers to a form of drug dealing where organised criminals from mainly urban areas such as Manchester or Leeds, travel to county towns such as Harrogate, York and Scarborough, to sell drugs. They advertise their drugs for sale via text message through a dedicated mobile phone number. These phone lines often become a valuable and protected “brand”. Criminals use violence and intimidation to force children and vulnerable adults to transport, sell and store drugs for them.

The exploitation of young people and vulnerable adults, and the levels of violence associated with county lines makes it a foremost priority for North Yorkshire Police and its partners.

There are a whole host of complex issues that sit behind drug dealing and these have intensified over the past few years as the issue of ‘county lines’ has infiltrated our local communities.

We work with numerous partner agencies to provide an all-round approach to disrupting county lines and safeguarding vulnerable people  – these range from national and regional law enforcement agencies, drug intervention workers to housing providers and mental health professionals.

We also have dedicated teams across the county that target the supply of drugs and work alongside partners to protect vulnerable people on a daily basis. Information from members of the public is also vital to help us tackle the production and supply of illegal drugs and weapons in our towns, cities and rural areas.

Enforcement activity has not stopped as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – indeed, over the last few months, we have executed a number of warrants to tackle suspected drugs offences proactively and robustly.

When you talk about drug dealing, people generally think of people who have chosen a particular lifestyle and it’s their own fault. But in a lot of cases, young and vulnerable people have been coerced into drug dealing and live their lives in fear. Or they become addicted due to mental health problems, or traumatic life experiences that have led them to use drugs and involvement in the criminal world associated with them.

Child exploitation refers to the grooming and trafficking of children by drug dealers who use them to sell and transport drugs for them. Gang members initially befriend a young person, and promise them gifts, friendship and status, gaining their trust over a period of time. They then begin to isolate them from their network of family and friends and the child is then forced to work for the criminal gangs. If they try to refuse, they are often subjected to physical and psychological abuse and sometimes sexual abuse.

In a lot of cases, criminals target vulnerable young people such as those in care, from deprived backgrounds or with chaotic home lives, but there are instances where children from more affluent, stable backgrounds including private school pupils, have been targeted.

Another form of exploitation is where drug dealers travel from outside of the area and take over the home of a vulnerable person to sell and store their drugs while they are in the area. This is known as cuckooing. The householder is usually targeted because they are a drug user, or have mental or physical disabilities, in some cases, single mothers or sex workers are targeted. They are sometimes given free drugs in return for allowing dealers to stay at their home. This results in them being dependent on the dealers and “owing” them a debt. In a lot of cases, they are subjected to violence and intimidation. They rarely come forward to the police to report attacks on them and may have unexplained and untreated injuries.

All our staff are committed to the safety of vulnerable people and victims of crime as well as carrying out focused disruption of those intent on causing harm. However, we cannot do it alone and information from the public is vital in helping to shape our operational activity.

With today’s busy and stressful pace of life, where communities are not as close as they used to be, looking out for each other and our vulnerable neighbours has never been more important.

You can help us by looking beyond the obvious, someone you might associate with antisocial behaviour and troublesome visitors, might just be very scared and exploited. Or, on the surface, a young person might appear to be a trouble-maker, but they could be a terrified victim of abuse and be trapped in a violent criminal world that they can’t see any escape from.

Please report anything you suspect may be linked to the exploitation of children, cuckooing and drug dealing and report them to us, or the independent charity, Crimestoppers. No matter how small you might think it is, please report it as every little piece of information helps us piece together a bigger picture.

Things to look out for

Cuckooing and vulnerable people

  • 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
  • Communal doors propped open

Exploited children

  • 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 

Call North Yorkshire Police on 101. If you prefer not to speak to the police and wish to remain anonymous, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. If you or another person is in immediate danger, always call 999.

DO NOT approach anyone you suspect is being involved in drug dealing, but call the police.

Last modified: June 23, 2020