Harrogate among the wealthy Yorkshire towns targeted by county lines drug dealers, expert says

Harrogate, Ilkley and Skipton are among the towns being targeted by county lines drug dealers.
Harrogate, Ilkley and Skipton are among the towns being targeted by county lines drug dealers.

An expert on county lines crime says that affluent Yorkshire towns such as Harrogate, Ilkley and Skipton are being increasingly targeted by drug dealers on the hunt for higher profits with less competition.

Dr Mohammed Qasim, a criminologist at Leeds Beckett University who studies ethnic minority gangs and drug dealers, told the local democracy reporting service: "There's no better place to take (drug dealing operations) right now than affluent towns".

Dr Qasim, whose areas of expertise includes the cross-county drug dealing activities commonly termed as county lines, said that research has indicated growing numbers of young men are setting up drug dealing networks in wealthy Yorkshire towns, particularly Harrogate.

He said that while historically drug users from the regions would travel to Leeds or Bradford to stock up on supplies, county lines had seen dealers flip this model in the pursuit of profit.

"Dealers have gone, 'hey, hang on a minute, we can actually set up a venture in these towns'," he said.

“The reasons being because drug prices are higher and there are growing numbers of drug users in some of these places, with Harrogate being one such place which has seen numbers heroin and crack users increase.

Teenagers facing threat from "county lines" drug dealers
"There are fewer opportunities to make money from drugs in inner cities today, prices are far too cheap to make any real profit...therefore dealers have adapted to changing drug markets.

"The money they make is considerably more than they would have made if they set up in the cities."

Dr Qasim, whose book Young, Muslim and Criminal details the lives of young British male Muslims caught in cycles of crime, said county lines networks were "relatively easy to set up".

All a dealer needed was "an opener" - a local drug user who could introduce the dealer's supplies to a network of fellow users.

The 'changing nature' of crime across North Yorkshire
Often, there was a "fear aspect" to that relationship, with the opener usually "incredibly afraid" once they were roped into the operation.

He added the utilisation of children was a distinctive feature of the new model of dealing.

"You've got kids coming from broken families, where often a parent may be a drug user, so the kids movements aren't being watched," Dr Qasim said.

The plight of children caught in the cycle of crime was highlighted earlier this year when a 16-year-old boy, who had been reported missing from Birmingham, was arrested in Harrogate on suspicion of county lines involvement in a police crackdown.
In an update to Harrogate Borough Council in April, North Yorkshire Police revealed that 30 arrests had been made in the district this year in relation to county lines.

While police forces across the country take the fight to dealers, Dr Qasim said support had to be there for the users at the end of the line.

"Instead of trying to eradicate county lines dealers, we need to support the addicts and get them away from using drugs," he said.

"With no demand, there'll be no supply."

Harrogate Borough Council's cabinet member for safer communities, Coun Mike Chambers, said he was "well-aware" of the problems county lines crime presented regional counties like North Yorkshire.

Coun Chambers and fellow councillors receive in-depth updates at quarterly community safety meetings, with county lines a frequent topic of conversation.

"As chair of the community safety partnership, we're well-aware of county lines and very aware that it occupies a lot of police time in seeking to stamp it out," he said.

"We're aware of what is going on from the point of view of people coming in from other counties, and it's something that has affected communities right across the country."

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter