York & North Yorkshire

North Yorkshire drugs gang violence 'at unprecedented level'

A police drugs raid
Image caption A team set up in 2018 to tackle county lines has made 220 arrests

Violence linked to "county lines" drugs gangs operating in North Yorkshire has hit unprecedented levels in the past 18 months, police chiefs have said.

Tackling heroin and crack cocaine in rural towns was North Yorkshire Police's "number one priority", said Det Ch Insp Graeme Wright.

"The drug supply and market in many of our isolated and rural towns is booming," he said.

A team set up nine months ago to tackle county lines has made 220 arrests.

County lines refers to urban drug dealers expanding their activities into smaller towns and rural areas, often via phone networks, to supply crack cocaine and heroin to addicts in those locations.

North Yorkshire Police has also seen a "significant escalation" in cuckooing - a practice in which vulnerable people's homes are taken over by gangs.

The force said it knew of 70 people affected by cuckooing so far, a mixture of people who had been cuckooed and people vulnerable to it.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Police know of four lines coming into Harrogate from Bradford, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham

Det Ch Insp Wright said: "We're getting support from wider law enforcement colleagues across the region and nationally but this is taking a serious toll on our resourcing and we're having to invest significantly.

"We're seeing significant numbers of people being embroiled in the use of drugs and high levels of drug-related deaths that I couldn't all attribute to county lines, but it's a factor.

"Typically where drug users reside, the violence has been unprecedented."

A police officer, speaking anonymously after finding a vulnerable addict who was a victim of cuckooing, said the man was "so scared of any consequence and repercussions from this gang that have been using his address and using him" that he had barricaded himself inside his home.

The victim still had a debt to the gang, the officer said.

"He's basically barricaded himself in his bedsit. He's got a pump action squirt gun - if someone comes through the door he's going to use it, it's boiling hot water.

"He's a nervous wreck," the officer added.

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