Harrogate teenagers facing threat by 'County Lines' drug gangs

The “big players” in cross-county crime don’t get their hands dirty in Harrogate and are instead increasingly using vulnerable teenagers to do their drug dealing operations.

Councillors were updated on the stark realities of tackling county lines crime in the country’s largest county earlier this month at an overview and scrutiny meeting.

The chief constable of North Yorkshire Police, Lisa Winward, has warned that out-of-town drug dealers are targeting youths in Harrogate.

The chief constable of North Yorkshire Police, Lisa Winward, has warned that out-of-town drug dealers are targeting youths in Harrogate.

“Worryingly, what we’ve found is that the big players don’t seem to get their hands dirty in Harrogate,” Acting Superintendent John Wilkinson told councillors.

He said that “more and more” young people were being pressed into crime instead – including a 15-year-old who broke down in tears when arrested in connection to county lines crime in Harrogate earlier this month.

“He had no real choice – which is very concerning for us,” he added.

Acting Supt Wilkinson told councillors that a specialist team of investigators, part of a key operation to tackle county lines crime, had identified two main routes of drug movement into Harrogate: Bradford – Leeds – Harrogate, and Wolverhampton – Birmingham – Harrogate.

North Yorkshire’s top cop, Chief Constable Lisa Winward, acknowledged that cross border crime “probably affects North Yorkshire much more than some of our neighbours”, with the county’s huge borders making it vulnerable to “more significant organised crime coming to here”.

The violent reality of county lines crime was thrust back into the spotlight in October, when three out-of-town drug dealers were sentenced to a combined 49 years of jail time over a night of savagery in Harrogate in 2017.

Mohamed Abdi, Adirahman Shire and Julian Soares were each found guilty of wounding and conspiracy to supply cocaine, stemming from the night in which the gang attacked three men they believed to be rival drug dealers.

Two of the men were stabbed and one had a corrosive liquid thrown in his face.

Detective Inspector Ian Pope of Harrogate Investigation Hub appealed at the time for community members to inform police if they had suspicions that county lines activity was occurring in their neighbourhood.

“We have staff permanently dedicated to investigating county lines and urge anyone who has any information about suspected drug dealing or has concerns for a young person in their neighbourhood, to let us know,” he said.

Vice chair of the overview and scrutiny board, Conservative Councillor Margaret Atkinson, said news that teenagers were increasingly being pressed into crime was “very shocking”.

“It’s a problem. We try to look after our young people but they can get led astray when they’re vulnerable,” she said.

The Fountains and Ripley ward councillor praised North Yorkshire police’s work thus far combating county lines crime.

“We’re very supportive of them, I think they’re working very hard to address it,” she said.

Lachlan Leeming , Local Democracy Reporting Service