County lines is the term given to a type of drug dealing that is exceptionally violent and sees dealers from out the area travelling to county towns such as Harrogate or York to sell drugs. It takes its name from the phone lines used by the dealers to market their drugs and take orders.
Two key priorities for North Yorkshire Police:
- The practice of “cuckooing” which is where drug dealers use violence to take over a vulnerable person’s home to store and sell drugs
- Child criminal exploitation where young people are groomed by dealers before being forced to transport and sell drugs on their behalf
Temporary Detective Sergeant, Tom Barker, said:
North Yorkshire Police are dedicated to focussing on protecting those most vulnerable from being at risk of County Lines drug dealing. From experience we see two types of people who are vulnerable. The first are those young people who are being exploited to come to Harrogate to deal drugs on behalf of a County Line.
They will be supplied by the operator with the drugs to sell, the phones to facilitate the selling of the drugs and are often carrying weapons for protection. The other type of people who are vulnerable are those end-users of heroin/crack cocaine who are typically being taken advantage of.
The drugs runners from outside of the area are often arriving at the end-users home addresses unannounced and then setting up base there to deal drugs in the form of ‘cuckooing’. They will often supply the end-users with drugs as a bribe to let them stay.
Unfortunately a few days can end up being weeks or months and during that time the end-user is subject to threats and coercion.
The work that we are doing is about intervening early and trying to prevent those young people getting into a life of crime. We are also routinely visiting end-users to provide safeguarding advice.
The dedicated “county lines” team in Harrogate today also visited 15 victims of cuckooing to check on their welfare and put appropriate safeguarding measures in place. They also visited local homeless centres to raise awareness among vulnerable people and charity workers.
They were joined by housing officers from Harrogate Borough Council and support workers from a drug and alcohol recovery service – to provide additional support for anyone who needs further help.
Officers also visited 14 pharmacies in the area to raise awareness of county lines and help staff recognise the signs. This could be anything out of the ordinary such as a person not collecting their methadone prescription for a few days, or unexplained injuries.
This proactive work was complemented by two pop-up information stands at Harrogate Railway Station and the Cenotaph led by local Neighbourhood Policing Teams, aimed at increasing awareness among members of the public.
Acting Sergeant Greg Davies of Harrogate Neighbourhood Policing Team, said:
The day saw increased activity as all three agencies worked together to protect vulnerable people and provide them with any support they need. These people, many of whom who are drug users themselves, are targeted by violent dealers because of their vulnerability and in some instances, their dependence on drugs. Providing an all-round service from immediate protection from violence to longer-term rehabilitation and helping them get their lives back on track is important to break the cycle of drug dependency, vulnerability and violence. My thanks go to all the agencies involved.
Although today saw increased activity in the area, it is typical of the work going on across the district every day of the week.
Our key priority is to protect vulnerable people and bring the perpetrators of drug and violent crime to justice. Members of the public can help us by reporting anything suspicious or anything that seems out of the ordinary. We can’t stress how important their information is. Drug dealing is a hidden crime and by reporting even the smallest piece of information you could help us piece together a wider picture that will then inform our policing activity. We may not respond immediately, but your information will be key in building up our intelligence. Please trust your instincts and if something doesn’t look right, please report it.
Councillor Mike Chambers, Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member for housing and safer communities, said:
I am pleased that officers from the council’s housing team are working in partnership with the police and other agencies in helping to safeguard and assist those vulnerable people from within our district who are so cruelly exploited by these unscrupulous and violent drug dealers.
I would join North Yorkshire Police in urging members of the public to be vigilant and to report anything suspicious or out of place, however small. If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t, so please report it. It can make a real difference.
What to look out for
The signs of cuckooing 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
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.