'County Lines drug dealing is spreading across Yorkshire like Japanese Knotweed'

County Lines drug dealing is spreading across Yorkshire like Japanese Knotweed, the Head of Regional Organised Crime has warned with every area in the county affected.

Children and the vulnerable are being targeted by criminals who will stoop to desperate measures to get them embroiled in a life of crime.

From bribes on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to targeting the region's railways and bus stops as children travel to and from school or college - parents are being warned to look out for signs their child could be exploited.

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County Lines is a form of organised crime in which drug dealers from usually urban areas exploit their victims forcing them to deal drugs in smaller towns and cities. It takes its name from the mobile phones used by dealers to communicate between towns, take orders and conduct their "business".

The lines are used to advertise drugs for sale and mass text messages are sent to users letting them know where and when they can buy drugs. The lines become valuable protected “brands”. County lines is highly lucrative and exceptionally violent.

"County Lines is the criminal Japanese Knotweed," said Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Twiggs, Head of Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit.

"Anywhere these criminals can get to there is a market to be explored.

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"Affluent areas like Harrogate are just as much a target as deprived towns such as Scarborough and the more awareness people have the better.

"People have to accept it's happening everywhere and we all have a collective responsibility to help tackle it.

"The public need to realise the situation. I can guarantee it will be happening in your community so the more we can raise awareness, the better."

Figures released exclusively to The Yorkshire Post reveal there are currently 148 known drug lines across the Yorkshire county.

In West Yorkshire, there are currently nine mapped and scored organised crime groups linked to County Lines and mainly in areas such as Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield, however there are a further additional 80 plus groups that are also involved in the supply and dealing of drugs, but do not yet meet Home Office criteria to be County Lines.

Police in West Yorkshire have also flagged 87 people as potential child criminal exploitation perpetrators, with a further 339 vulnerable adults and children at risk of criminal exploitation - 111 of which are linked to County Lines.

Det Ch Supt Twiggs said: "For parents and school staff we advise that if they haven't got an eye on children in a positive way, someone may have a negative eye on them.

"Some of the children already targeted have come from good homes and people ask 'How can little Jonny get involved in something like this?

"We want to ask how many parents know exactly what their kids are doing on social media.

Statistics released to The Yorkshire Post also reveal how criminals are targeting hundreds of vulnerable people in their own homes and using their premises to store and sell drugs in an offence known as cuckooing.

Cuckooing victims are often drug users themselves, and people who are vulnerable due to a mental or physical disability, their age or lifestyle.

There are four different types of cuckooing. This includes parasitic cuckooing - where someone's home is taken over by force; quasi cuckooing - taken over by exploiting the victim; coupling, where the cuckooer will form a sexual relationship with the victim; and local, where a localised offender will identify a property close to their operating base.

Mr Twiggs said: "County Lines is a big problem here as it is everywhere.

"Out of the 43 forces in the country, all of them are affected, but people need to know we are aware of the issue and collectively we are doing everything we can to tackle the problem and bring perpetrators to justice."