POLICE have searched a number of houses in Skipton and made arrests across the county in a week-long crackdown on county lines drug-dealing.

The action was part of a national week of intensification led by the National Crime Agency and Regional Organised Crime Units to disrupt criminals and safeguard vulnerable people.

In North Yorkshire officers arrested 14 men and a 17-year-old boy over the course of the week in the Skipton, Harrogate, and Keighley areas.

Police also visited 64 vulnerable people.

The 15 suspects were arrested on suspicion of various offences ranging from supplying heroin to possessing cash obtained through criminality.

No further details of those arrested have been released.

A key focus of county lines is safeguarding vulnerable people who are exploited by criminals. Either those who are forced to travel from town to town selling drugs, or those who are victims of what is known as ‘cuckooing’. This is where vulnerable people – often drug users or those with mental or physical disability - are forced into allowing drug dealers to stay in their homes which are then used as a base to store and sell drugs.

North Yorkshire Police worked with partner agencies to visit 64 vulnerable people identified as victims or potential victims of cuckooing to put safeguarding measures in place. The measures can range from being re-housed to being issued with advice and information to make them aware of cuckooing and how to recognise the signs that they are being exploited and how to get help.

Chief Inspector Emma Aldred of North Yorkshire Police, said: “County lines continues to be a key priority for North Yorkshire Police. This past week of action throws a spotlight on what is going on throughout the year to disrupt drug dealing and safeguard vulnerable people.

“The patrols and visits also allow us to gather valuable information that is used to build up a picture of what is happening in the area and forms part of a bigger picture that goes on to inform the action we take in the future.

“We urge people to continue to report any concerns they have about drug dealing or vulnerable people in their neighbourhood. We will take action.”

Officers also worked with British Transport Police to target people using the rail network to bring drugs into North Yorkshire from towns outside of the county and to raise awareness among passengers of exploitation and signs to look out for.

The force also supported the Children’s Society #LookCloser campaign through social media - designed to encourage people to look beyond the obvious to help protect children who are being exploited: Those who don't always look vulnerable, don't always act like victim, may not understand they are being exploited, may have a distrust of police/adults in authority and appear angry or aggressive – common signs of trauma.

Things to look out for:

• Increased callers at a property

• Increase in cars pulling up for short periods of time

• Different accents at a property

• Increased antisocial behaviour at a property

• Not seeing the resident for long periods of time

• Unfamiliar vehicles at the property

• Windows covered or curtains closed for long periods

• Communal doors propped open

If you’re a parent or carer of children, please also look out for these signs of exploitation. The police often come across children as young as 14 who are dealing drugs. Often not realising they are being exploited. If you recognise these signs, please call us:

• Persistently going missing from school or home and / or being found out of the area;

• Unexplained money, clothes, or mobile phones

• Excessive receipt of texts / phone calls

• Relationships with controlling / older individuals or groups

• Leaving home / care without explanation

• Suspicion of physical assault / unexplained injuries

• Carrying weapons

• Significant decline in school results / performance

• Gang association or isolation from peers or social networks

• Self-harm or significant changes in emotional well-being

Call North Yorkshire Police on 101. If you prefer not to speak to the police and wish to remain anonymous, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. If you or another person is in immediate danger, always call 999.