Drug dealers "dressing up as key workers" during lockdown to avoid suspicion, says North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner

Drug dealers have been disguising themselves as key workers during lockdown to go undetected, North Yorkshire's police, fire and crime commissioner has said.

Julia Mulligan told councillors lockdown had made it much harder to move drugs and money around the county, forcing dealers to disguise themselves.

Speaking at a North Yorkshire County Council meeting, Ms Mulligan said: “A lot of the lockdown measures related to people travelling and the whole county lines model is premised on travel.

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“When drug dealers were travelling around the county, they did become somewhat more conspicuous than they had been. The criminals of courses adapted as they always do and there were some that for example posed as key workers.”

Drug dealers have been dressing as key workers during lockdown to prevent detection, Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan has said

County lines is the term used to describe criminal gangs who move illegal drugs from big cities to more rural locations and sell them via dedicated mobile phone lines.

They are notorious for recruiting young and vulnerable couriers – often teens enticed by offers of friendship and protection.

They usually travel by train or coach around but due to reduced public transport, Ms Mulligan said that many were forced onto the quiet roads.

She added as crime levels fell due to the restrictions on travel, officers were able to make “significant progress” on tackling drug gangs.

Drug dealers have been dressing as key workers during lockdown to prevent detection, Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan has said

Ms Mulligan said in a report drug-related incidents were down 25 per cent in March and April when compared to the same period last year.

“The intelligence resulting from this progress has put North Yorkshire Police on the front foot and able to respond effectively when activity ramped back

up after restrictions relaxed”, she said.

But her report added when lockdown restrictions were further relaxed in July, there was a “significant spike” in drug-related incidents, up by over 50 per cent.

Drug dealers have been dressing as key workers during lockdown to prevent detection, Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan has said

Last Friday, five people including three boys were arrested as part of a police operation aimed at disrupting drug dealing in Harrogate.

Items including drugs, cash, weapons and sweets thought to be laced with cannabis were also seized during a series of arrests across the town.

Those arrested included two men aged 18 and 24, and three boys, two aged 17 and one aged 16.

Sergeant Alex Sellars, of Harrogate Neighbourhood Policing Team, said at the time: “Over the last few months we’ve seen a rise in drug problems in certain areas of the town.

“Operation Needle was launched to target the suspected dealers who we believe are at the source of the problem and follows several weeks of intensive, behind-the-scenes work.”

At last week’s meeting, Ms Mulligan also told councillors urgent action is needed to reduce the backlog of court cases caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Ms Mulligan said she is “extremely concerned” about the number of outstanding cases which stretch out well into 2021, and that it could “significantly” affect confidence in the justice system.

She said: “I hope it doesn’t affect the way police deal with matters, but if they know they arrest and charge a burglar and the likelihood of them going to court is pretty much zero, that has a potential impact.

“There is a lot of work going at a national level to try to address this and a lot of lobbying of the government.”

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