County lines drug dealers in Harrogate carrying on as usual during lockdown - and warning gangs are on a 'recruitment drive'
County lines drug dealers have continued to try to operate during the coronavirus lockdown, a senior Harrogate police officer has said.
North Yorkshire Police's Detective Superintendent Steve Thomas said between four and six 'lines' are currently operating in the district, with offenders continuing to exploit young or vulnerable people by using grooming techniques to coerce them into selling drugs.
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.
Speaking at a Harrogate Borough Council meeting this week, Det Sup Thomas said for most criminals the lockdown has made it much harder to carry out crimes.
But for county lines drug dealers he said it has been easier to move drugs and money around because of the way they operate in rural areas.
"The lockdown itself has made it difficult for traditional crime given that there have been very few people out on the roads - both on a day and on a night", he said.
"For the officers, I think it has been very easy for them to spot people and I think criminals have quite quickly worked out it is harder to get away unseen.
"However, county lines as a business model operates on that remote network telephony, which is almost a perfect business model.
"It's a bit like the way Amazon or some of the big online retailers operate."
It comes as a report from the National Youth Agency has warned drug gangs have been on a "recruitment drive" during lockdown, targeting vulnerable children and increasingly girls because they are unknown to police.
The report said social media and "unsafe outdoor spaces" are being used to recruit them.
It also warned when schools and youth clubs closed, thousands of vulnerable young people had "simply gone off the radar".
Before the lockdown, detectives at North Yorkshire Police took down three mobile phone lines used by suspected drug dealers to target their customers in Harrogate.
Almost 20 arrests were also made in February and March as officers targeted multiple addresses in the county.
Det Supt Thomas told councillors county lines activity has since continued "without really being disrupted or deterred by the covid pandemic or its restrictions".
And when asked if county lines activity is on the up, he added: "I think we are talking marginally.
"The numbers of lines that we have got operating this month compared to how many we've had over the last six months - it only fluctuates by maybe one or two.
"At any given point we have between four and six lines operating into Harrogate."
The National Crime Agency (NCA) estimates profits from the trade nationwide are around £500million a year.
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter
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