Further arrests and breakthroughs made in fight against Harrogate's County Lines problem
Harrogate’s harmful and exploitative networks of County Lines drug dealing could be crumbling as police confirm a further 11 arrests.
However, one officer has warned that ‘while there is addiction there will always be a market,’ stating that the root causes of vulnerability to drug use must be fully addressed in order to provide a permanent solution to the problem.
Today’s, Tuesday's, arrests of 11 suspected drug dealers in Harrogate where more than 40 officers targeted multiple addresses, follows the success of the first phase of the police operation two weeks ago, dubbed Operation Jackal, which saw six major arrests in Bradford - including the ringleaders of the city’s three main lines into Harrogate.
The Jerry, Teddy and Pat phone lines used by dealers to lure and prey upon people vulnerable to heroin and cocaine addiction, were shut down after the police successfully applied for three civil orders from Newcastle Crown Court to take the lines over and disconnect them.
This also gave police a rare opportunity to communicate directly with drug users targeted by the lines, to offer advice and support around addiction and the associated issues that come with County Lines dealing, including human trafficking and money laundering offences.
The Harrogate Advertiser accompanied police on the first and second stages of Operation Jackal, and witnessed first-hand the level of seriousness and precision with which officers are treating the issue - with uniformed officers, plain-clothed, and members of the dedicated County Lines Operation Expedite team swooping in on their targeted addresses, with the support of partner agencies including the National County Lines Coordination Centre.
We spoke at length with a police officer working in the Operation Expedite team, who said today’s arrests represent another major breakthrough in disrupting the lines, but added that more needs to be done to tackle the root causes of drug use.
He said: “This has been massive in disrupting the dealing, but to eradicate the problem long-term, we need to address addiction and the root problems. If people weren’t addicted and had all the support they needed, there would be no market.
“But addiction will still be there, which means that dealers can then take advantage of a gap in the market. What concerns me the most is the level of violence and the weapons that these gangs are using, and I don’t think Harrogate’s seen such a surge in violent attacks.
"The drugs agency estimates that there are about 200 to 250 users of heroin currently in treatment, and we know that there are others not seeking treatment who call themselves functional addicts, maintaining their addictions through shop theft and other criminal means.
“In metropolitan areas, that kind of daily violence and attack is almost a norm sadly, as it’s their response to being challenged as gang - that’s how they retaliate - so if something has gone wrong for them here, they just bring that mindset to somewhere that has never seen that level of violence before.
"All individual lines are fighting for that 250 core user group, and the thousands of pounds you can earn - the violence has mostly been the robbing of each other.
“Some users, they might use three or four times a day - they might be using in the morning, in the lunchtime and the evening, and that is their daily life. Some of these don’t make that in benefits or through other income, so where that money is coming from is things like shop thefts, lower-end crime, theft from motor vehicles, and anything they can do to generate money - the sex trade isn’t unusual.”
Class A drugs and a number of mobile phones used to run the County Lines have been seized during the course of Operation Jackal. In an era of 24-hour communication where we are able to contact almost anybody at the click of a mouse or the press of a button, the immediacy with which dealers are able to contact users, day or night, is of particular concern - it means they can prey upon people at their lowest moments, or succeed through sheer persistence.
The expedite officer said the dealers' bulk text messages sent out to hundreds of people on a 'mailing list' is a marketing ploy, a sinister and harmful version of the routine ones sent out by takeaways or clubs you have a membership with, trying to hook you in with offers.
He said: "It feels personal to you when you get that text. It's definitely an addictive marketing ploy, them telling you what deals they have and what you can get.
"For the children getting involved in County Lines from outside of Harrogate, it makes you wonder what's going on in their own home lives for them to feel the need to get involved.
"I don't know what it is, whether it's glorified through music and entertainment, whether it's a lack of a role model or figure within their own lives, or whether they look up to a gang. But I don't think there is a model, it's very individual. But there is something within them that has attracted them to a gangster lifestyle, whether it's the money or cars.
"There is definitely an underbelly of crime in Harrogate that people don't always know about, but we are doing everything we can to tackle it, and have been making significant progress."
Members of Harrogate's Neighbourhood Policing Team have delivered letters explaining what has been going on today to reassure local people who may have been concerned by the increased police presence as officers carried out arrests in their neighbourhoods.
Acting Superintendent Andy Colbourne of North Yorkshire Police, said: “County lines remains a major priority for North Yorkshire Police and I hope this most recent phase of our operation provides reassurance to the people of Harrogate that we will take action against the scourge of drug dealing, particularly where it affects some of the most vulnerable people in society.
“We urge anyone who has any information about drug dealing in their neighbourhood to contact us on 101 or if they prefer, to pass information anonymously to Crimestoppers. Every piece of information helps us to build up a bigger picture and informs our operational activity. As you can see from today’s outcome, we are determined to rid our communities of the misery and associated crime that drug dealing causes.”