ALMOST half of the 40 people arrested in the hunt for cross-county drug-dealing criminals in North Yorkshire this year have been under the age of 18.

The update comes as the region’s police reveal they are increasingly liaising with local schools to help identify vulnerable students who could be at risk of drug use or exploitation from so-called ‘County Lines’ gangs.

The revelations from two of the region’s most senior police, Inspectors Penny Taylor and Steve Breen, were presented to a North Yorkshire overview and scrutiny committee meeting, as the actions being taken to clamp down on regional crime was discussed.

According to the pair, police hunting drug-dealing crooks in North Yorkshire this year have identified ‘lines’ coming into the region from as far away as Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford and Leeds, with school-age children using a variety of transports to avoid detection.

“We’re seeing drug-dealers involved in County Lines using different modes of transport – hire vehicles, taxis, trains and buses…it’s an  area of concern for us,” Inspector Taylor told councillors. 

North Yorkshire Police have previously said that the county’s huge borders made it particularly vulnerable to County Lines, the term used when drug gangs from big cities expand their operations to smaller towns.

The youthful nature of offenders has seen North Yorkshire increase the number of officers and Police Community Support Officers liaising with local schools to identify vulnerable young people at risk of becoming involved in the crime.

Councillors were also told that five convictions had been made so far in 2019 in relation to county lines crime, the most notable of which involved a 22-year-old male from Bradford sentenced to five years and two months for possession and intent to supply Class A drugs, as well as dangerous driving.

Police said he was taking advantage of local drug-users by using their homes as a base to deal from – a practice known as ‘cuckooing’ – and exploiting their local knowledge to set up a customer-base.

In one incident, he failed to stop for police vehicles resulting in a high-speed chase which police said put “numerous lives at risk”.

On the final occasion he was arrested he was found in possession of what police termed a “significant quantity” of Class A drugs.

He subsequently plead guilty to the charges in court.

Inspectors Breen and Taylor also appealed to councillors to let their constituents know to report suspected drug dealing incidents to Crimestoppers, or contact North Yorkshire Police directly.