County Lines: Harrogate police roadshows to highlight exploitation of children

North Yorkshire Police are appealing to the public to be their 'eyes and ears' in the fight against cross-county drug dealers, with a series of events planned in Harrogate to showcase the signs of children and vulnerable people being exploited.

Criminals are pressuring vulnerable people and children to store and sell drugs in smaller county towns
Criminals are pressuring vulnerable people and children to store and sell drugs in smaller county towns

Tomorrow (Thursday, October 11) members of the Harrogate Neighbourhood Policing Team will be holding a series of events to raise awareness of "County Lines" drug dealing. Forming part of Operation Shield, NYP's response to County Lines, the day will see roadshow held at Harrogate Train Station and Library Gardens from 10am.

County Lines is used to describe cases where criminals based in urban areas pressure 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.

As part of the day the team will be promoting NYP's 'Trapped' campaign, the story of how one teenage boy was groomed and trapped in the violent world of county lines drug dealing.

Acting Inspector Ben Ralston of Harrogate Police, said: "By raising awareness of the methods used by these criminals and the signs to look out for, we want to protect vulnerable people from becoming involved in the first place, help them get out the often dangerous situations they find themselves in and encourage people to report information about drug dealing to the police.

"There is lots of work going on behind the scenes to tackle drugs in Harrogate but we still need people to act as our eyes and ears and report any suspicious activity in their neighbourhood. A key priority for us is protecting the vulnerable and by knowing what to look for in their neighbourhood, local residents can help us build up a clear picture that will inform our enforcement and safeguarding activity."

Operation Shield looks to safeguard vulnerable people, while also disrupting the supply of drugs coming in to rural areas. As part of this officers have also visited homeless centres to raise awareness of dealers targeting vulnerable people to sell drugs on their behalf, while also visiting 'Cuckooing' victims.

Cuckooing is used to describe cases where drug dealers force vulnerable people to store and sell drugs from their home. While also carrying out welfare checks on known victims, they are also approaching people who could potentially be targeted.

North Yorkshire Police have created a list of the signs to look out for cuckooing

These 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

They have also said that with gangs using social media children who aren't 'typically vulnerable' are being recruited and the signs of them being used by dealers include:

* 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, you can call NYP on 101, if they are in immediate danger, call 999. Or you can Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. If a person is in immediate danger, always call 999.