Missing 16-year-old among dozens arrested this year in Harrogate county lines crackdown

About 30 people have been arrested in the Harrogate area this year as police combat county lines drug-dealing crime.
About 30 people have been arrested in the Harrogate area this year as police combat county lines drug-dealing crime.

A 16-year-old from Birmingham who had been reported as missing is among the dozens of people arrested in Harrogate this year in relation to county lines drug-dealing.

Specific details about the fight against cross-county crime will be presented to members of Harrogate Borough Council's overview and scrutiny committee by North Yorkshire Police's inspector for Harrogate Rural, Steve Breen, on Monday.

Committee members will be told that among the approximately 30 people arrested this year was three males from Birmingham, including the 16-year-old boy who had been reported missing "for some time".

The trio were arrested at an address in Harrogate where it is believed they were "cuckooing" the residents - cuckooing being the term for when drug dealers from outside the local area commandeer a home from a vulnerable person to use as a drug dealing base.

According to a report from North Yorkshire Police, it is suspected that there are currently five county lines operating in Harrogate coming from Leeds, Bradford and Birmingham.

Police were also aware of a county line coming in from Manchester throughout January and February, but believe that a series of arrests has halted the activities of that particular group.

Of the 30 arrests, the majority have been for drugs supply offences (with several of the arrests including seizures in excess of 30 wraps of heroin or crack cocaine), but some have also included arrests for being in possession of bladed weapons.

Additional weapons including Tasers have also been recovered.

According to the report, Harrogate's county lines police team have been active daily since the start of the tear - with day-to-day work including intelligence gathering, stop and searches, and visits to ‘cuckooed’ victims.

This year's raids have included the execution of a drug warrant at a residence of Knaresborough that had been linked to county lines crime, with cocaine and a Taser seized.

Following that raid North Yorkshire Police collaborated with their West Yorkshire neighbours in cross-border operations, which saw a number of people linked to the Knaresborough raid arrested in stolen vehicles.

There have been five additional addresses in Harrogate identified as being cuckooed, with officers working to "support and educate" the residents.

Despite the various actions undertaken by police, they acknowledge the gangs are continuing to operate in the area and are making "significant amounts of money" - up to £5000 a day in Harrogate alone.

"Similar to other parts of the country, particularly rural and coastal towns, Harrogate police continue to face significant challenges brought through the issue of county lines," the report states.

The report states that the "greatest concern" with the county lines crime is the violence associated with their activity.

"The gangs will often carry knives and look to impose their respective authority over other county lines and local ‘cuckoo’ victims," the report states.

The exploitation of children and young people was also a continuing issue for police.

"We are also finding that the children getting exploited into dealing heroin/crack cocaine are getting younger – the biggest challenge for the police is therefore providing education to these young people who are vulnerable to being exploited," the report states.

Councillors were told at the last police update in December that North Yorkshire was particularly vulnerable to cross-county crime, with the county's huge borders and geographical area adding to the difficulty of policing crime coming from out of the area.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter