Police speak out on the cause of Harrogate's most serious crimes
County Lines drug dealing is a dangerous common thread underpinning a considerable number of Harrogate’s most alarming offences - and its ‘glamour’ and gang culture is luring some of the town’s most vulnerable people, including children, into criminality, Harrogate’s area police commander has warned.
A number of unsettled residents have been moved to contact the Harrogate Advertiser to simply ask, ‘what is happening to our town?’ after a spate of robberies, serious assaults and other concerning incidents that have shocked the town.
Area police commander Det Supt Steve Thomas stressed that there are also many isolated incidents which have no connection to County Lines, but he has identified the issue as being a root problem behind a notable proportion of Harrogate’s crimes.
Det Supt Thomas said: “We do have an issue with County Lines drug dealing in Harrogate, which again we are quite open with, and I am reassured that as a force and as a district we have a really good, strong response.
“It is a challenge - we do have a Class A drug user market in Harrogate that is seen by those outside in some of the bigger towns and cities, either surrounding us or further afield, as an opportunity to come in and deal those drugs to that kind of client group, which does represent some challenges to us. And what we know is that potentially on the periphery of that there will be some of our younger, more vulnerable and open to influence young children, and that’s why we are working hard with our expedite team to challenge that.
“Whenever you have any town that has a drug dealing issue, when you’ve got County Lines, you have organised crime groups coming from different areas who come into conflict with local criminals and organised crime groups, and they tread on each other’s toes.
“And what happens is you often end up with people from outside the area who are vulnerable themselves in terms of being exposed to threats of violence who are dealing with things like recovering debt, and that can often then lead to things like robberies.
“That all ties in then potentially with this periphery of young children who might see it as a gang culture, who might think on the face of it that it is quite cool and want to hang around on the periphery, but they pick up on some of these behaviours.”
Det Supt Thomas has reassured residents that Harrogate is still a very safe place, and that police are continuing to do everything they can to stamp out the issue.
He said: “We are working really hard on this, we’ve doubled our expedite team in Harrogate temporarily just while we know we have this ongoing issue, so we can keep disrupting the criminality. And a lot of what we do is reaching out and supporting vulnerable people so that they don’t get cuckooed by some of these gangs.
“Although there has been some significant incidents, I think the general scale and volume of things isn’t particularly out of kilter with the norm. It’s just that when you get the odd incident that really jumps out at you, it creates more worry.”
This reassurance comes after a spate of assaults and other serious incidents in Harrogate during the festive period and into the New Year, including a stabbing in the town centre last week which led to police stepping up their patrols.
A man in his thirties has been left with ‘life-changing injuries’ as a result of the attack, and three teenage boys, aged 16, 15 and 13, have been charged with robbery and wounding with intent. The 15-year-old has also been charged with possession of an offensive weapon, namely a 13-inch knife, in a public place, and possession of cannabis.
The incident happened in the early hours of Friday morning, January 3, at around 4.40am, in the square outside Victoria Shopping Centre.
Harrogate police officers have also been punched, threatened and left with broken bones in a string of New Year attacks, prompting a fresh plea for members of the public to respect their protectors.
On January 3, an officer was punched in the face and suffered a fractured cheekbone, and in the same week, two officers acting as good Samaritans for a drunk man they found in the town centre, were assaulted by him.
Assistant Chief Constable Mike Walker, said: “Many of my colleagues have spent their Christmas and New Year period on duty, working hard to keep our communities safe - including some of the most vulnerable in society.
“That’s why it is so disappointing to see that an unacceptable number of them have been subjected to abuse, assaults and threats while carrying out their duties.”
In another shocking incident, money from three charity collection tins and a number of knives were stolen in the burglary of a Harrogate sandwich shop.
The incident happened at the Thug Sandwich Company on Albert Street overnight between Monday and Tuesday.