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"County Lines" drug dealing

“County Lines” is the term used to describe a form of organised crime where criminals based in urban areas pressurise vulnerable people and children to transport, store and sell drugs in smaller county towns. It takes its name from the phone lines used by organised crime gangs to communicate between towns.

We are working with partner agencies and other police forces to safeguard vulnerable people who have been forced into selling drugs and to bring those who exploit them to justice.

Increasingly, we are seeing drug dealers and the people they are exploiting, use the rail network to travel into York and Scarborough from areas such as Manchester, Merseyside, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire. So we have launched Project Shield, a joint operation with British Transport Police to target suspects who are using the rail network to bring drugs into North Yorkshire.

Combined with Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology on our roads, our aim is to disrupt their means of transport and ability to sell drugs in North Yorkshire, as well as safeguarding vulnerable people who have been pressured into ‘working’ for organised criminals.


An issue of concern in North Yorkshire is the practice of “cuckooing” where county lines drug dealers take over a vulnerable person’s home to store their drugs and cash and use it as base for dealing drugs.

This usually involves identifying vulnerable people such as drug addicts, or people who are vulnerable due to mental or physical health impairments, single mothers and female sex workers. The dealers then coerce, and sometimes threaten the vulnerable person into allowing them to take control of their home so they can use it to store and sell drugs.

They usually stay in a property for a short time before moving on to new premises.

The victims of cuckooing tend to live in social housing and the dealers will either stay in the property to deal drugs themselves, or will get the householder to deal on their behalf, travelling back and forth to their home areas to restock.

Some of the dealers are criminals by choice and some have been coerced and exploited by organised criminals to work for them.

Information from members of the public is vital to help us piece together the picture of offending across North Yorkshire. We therefore urge anyone to contact the police if they suspect it’s going on in their area.

The signs to look out for include:

  • 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

  • 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.

Child Criminal Exploitation

Similar to child sexual exploitation, any young person could be at risk of being targeted by drug gangs, but some are particularly susceptible including those without a stable home life, who’ve experienced domestic violence, parental drug abuse or criminality, social isolation or exclusion, homelessness or insecure accommodation, learning or physical disability, mental health problems, associations with criminality or being in care, particularly a disrupted history of care.

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