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Safeguarding a priority as police crack down on county lines drug dealers

Last modified: 25 July 2018 at 08:50pm

Rail passengers are likely to see an increased police presence at Scarborough train station over the coming weeks as North Yorkshire Police team up with British Transport Police in an operation to crack down on “County Lines” drug dealers.

“County Lines” is the term used to describe a form of organised crime where criminals based in urban areas pressurise 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.

Project Shield is a joint operation targeting suspects who police believe are using the rail network to bring drugs and cash in and out of the town, and was launched on Wednesday 25 July 2018.

Detective Chief Inspector Graeme Wright, of North Yorkshire Police, said: “Increasingly, North Yorkshire is seeing drug dealers and the people they are exploiting, use the rail network to travel to the area from areas such as Manchester, Merseyside, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire.

“Combined with Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology on our roads, our aim is to disrupt their means of transport and ability to sell drugs in North Yorkshire, as well as safeguarding vulnerable people who have been pressured into ‘working’ for organised criminals.

“Although North Yorkshire is generally a low crime area, this is happening in the county now and it’s vital that members of the public can spot the signs of drug dealing, in particular where vulnerable adults and young people are involved, and report any concerns to the police or Crimestoppers. This will build on and enrich our existing intelligence which then helps to inform our enforcement activity.”

Officers are briefed at the start of Project Shield

Inspector Andy Selby of British Transport Police, added, “Project Shield is part of an ongoing operation to target and disrupt those who intend on using trains to transport drugs to towns and cities across the county.

“Where BTP has intelligence that the rail network is being used to support any kind of criminal activity, we work in partnership with other forces, including North Yorkshire Police and local agencies, to prevent and disrupt it. We believe that these partnerships are paramount to tackling any exploitation of vulnerable people.

“Working with colleagues we will act fast and decisively to take drugs off our streets to keep our communities safe from harm and to protect the vulnerable.

“We know this ‘county lines’ activity is taking place and it’s something we’re going to stop.”

Project Shield high visibility patrols


An issue of concern in North Yorkshire is the practice of “cuckooing” where county lines drug dealers take over a vulnerable person’s home to store their drugs and cash and use it as base for dealing drugs.

This usually involves identifying vulnerable people such as drug addicts, or people who are vulnerable due to mental or physical health impairments, single mothers and female sex workers. The dealers then coerce, and sometimes threaten the vulnerable person into allowing them to take control of their home so they can use it to store and sell drugs.
They usually stay in a property for a short time before moving on to new premises.

The victims of cuckooing tend to live in social housing and the dealers will either stay in the property to deal drugs themselves, or will get the householder to deal on their behalf, travelling back and forth to their home areas to restock.

Some of the dealers are criminals by choice and some have been coerced and exploited by organised criminals to work for them.

D/Ch Insp Wright added: “We work with partner agencies to identify these vulnerable people so that arrests can be made and any safeguarding measures put in place to protect them if necessary. Information from members of the public is vital to help us piece together the picture of offending across North Yorkshire. We therefore urge anyone to contact the police if they suspect it’s going on in their area.”

The signs 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

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.

Child Criminal Exploitation
Similar to child sexual exploitation, any young person could be at risk of being targeted by drug gangs, but some are particularly susceptible including those without a stable home life, who’ve experienced domestic violence, parental drug abuse or criminality, social isolation or exclusion, homelessness or insecure accommodation, learning or physical disability, mental health problems, associations with criminality or being in care, particularly a disrupted history of care.

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

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