Organised Crime groups from Leeds and Bradford are among those fuelling drug dealing in towns and coastal communities in North Yorkshire and the Humber.
Evidence has emerged of ‘county lines’ being run in towns such as Harrogate, Scarborough and Bridlington, where vulnerable young people, drug users and sex workers are being exploited into running Class A drugs, cash or weapons.
Others targeted by the drugs gangs have their homes taken over to act as the local base for branded mobile phone lines which allow customers to place orders for drugs.
As police continue to build intellgence on this particular model of drug dealing, West Yorkshire has been identified as an ‘exporting’ area.
A briefing document prepared by West Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner said: “This means that it has an internal drug market robust enough to prevent external organised crime groups establishing new drug lines in our area.”
It noted that there were two known ‘county lines’ being run out of West Yorkshire, one linking Leeds to Scarborough and the other linking Bradford to Bridlington.
Detective Superintendent Pat Twiggs, of West Yorkshire Police, told the YEP: “In order to stop these lines from operating we are carrying out work that is unlikely to be seen but nevertheless ongoing. It is helping us to build up a clear picture of what is taking place.
“We are also working closely with partners and, in particular, with other forces to help close down the lines.”
Across the border in North Yorkshire, police are aware of several organised crime groups operating ‘county lines’ and have identified York, Scarborough and Harrogate as targets.
Detective Superintendent Steve Thomas, the force’s head of crime, said: “We look at specific areas, particular crime groups, and we look actively at how we can start to disrupt the activity,” he said. “We’re starting to see some really positive results out of that.”
Among them is the upcoming trial of three men – two from outside Yorkshire – accused of offences including an attempted murder in Harrogate.
The force has also used ‘cease and desist’ notices to target homes taken over by the criminals through force or coercion.
North Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, said: “Places like Scarborough have always had an issue with drugs coming in from Merseyside for example, but I think the situation is getting worse and I think we’re seeing criminal groups targeting North Yorkshire from further afield.
“It’s bringing more violence with it. We’ve had a number of incidents that have involved people coming from outside trying to deal on the patch or turf of local dealers and there are consequences. It’s not just in central York or somewhere like that. It’s affecting a lot of communities in North Yorkshire at the moment.”
Not all networks running ‘county lines’ look beyond their home county for new markets though.
Det Supt Twiggs said: “There is perhaps a misconception that organised crime groups are solely operating across force boundaries between the larger cities into smaller towns. This is not the case and the concept of ‘county lines’ can occur within a city or between towns.
“Ultimately criminals do not respect traditional borders and will carry out their activities within West Yorkshire or into other force areas too.”