POLICE have arrested 18 people as part of a large-scale clampdown on the illegal supply of crack cocaine and heroin across the region.

In North Yorkshire officers arrested 14 men and a 17-year-old boy over the course of the week.

The targeted strikes formed part of a large-scale investigation known as Operation Girona – a multi-force crackdown which aimed to disrupt a suspected organised criminal group, believed to be running a County Line shipping Class A drugs into the region from the North West.

The activity formed part of the national intensification period to tackle this type of criminality and saw warrants executed at 15 addresses in Gateshead, Newcastle, Stanley, Pelton Fell, Peterlee and Seaham and in Widnes, Crewe, the Wirral, and Liverpool.

More than 100 officers from Northumbria, Durham, Merseyside, Cheshire and the North East Regional Special Operations Unit (NERSOU) took part in disruption activity.

That resulted in the seizure of £16,000 in cash, 175g of heroin worth £2,800, more than 12,000 suspected illegal cigarettes, 165 packets of tobacco and 32 mobile phones. A number of vehicles were also uplifted.

A total of 13 men, aged between 18 and 57, and five women, aged between 31 and 59, were all arrested on suspicion of Conspiracy to Supply Class A drugs throughout the United Kingdom. They have since been released under investigation.

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Detective Chief Inspector Jamie Pitt, from Northumbria Police, led the operation and praised the results of the partnership activity.

He said: “As a Force, we have made our position on County Lines drug dealing very clear. It is an appalling practice which sees dangerous criminals selling highly addictive substances like heroin to vulnerable drug users exploiting their addictions for financial gain - and we will not tolerate this in our region.

“Whilst this hasn’t taken hold in our area like it has in some other parts of the country, we are not going to be complacent and will continue to take robust action, and embrace the valuable lessons learned in other parts of the country.”

The tactical strikes came just days after drug dealer David Elliott was jailed at Newcastle Crown Court for selling heroin as part of Operation Salvator - a large-scale investigation into the rising number of drugs deaths in Gateshead between 2017-2018.

The 39-year-old was one of 60 suspects arrested in one of the biggest days of action ever carried out by the Force in April last year.

DCI Pitt added: “We saw great success with Operation Salvator and our communities are a safer place because of our action. This activity as part of Operation Girona is no different - it is part of our ongoing commitment to identifying, disrupting and dismantling these despicable organisations who prey on some of the most vulnerable.

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“Arresting 18 people across four different force areas should send a very clear message to anyone who thinks they can get away with this type of criminality. We don’t care if you’re the courier or the principle member of an organised criminal group – you can’t hide from us.

“I would like to thank everyone involved for all their hard work throughout this operation; we cannot tackle County Lines in isolation and will continue to work alongside our partners in law enforcement, the local authorities and public health to ensure we bring perpetrators to justice, safeguard the vulnerable and protect our communities from the ripple effects of this.

“I would also like to remind the public they have a part to play in this as well – please don’t turn a blind eye - if you see something that doesn’t look right, get in touch and help us put a stop to this.”

Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness said: “The scale and success of this operation shows that when it comes to tackling County Lines in Northumbria we are taking action and ensuring that our region doesn’t become blighted by this horrible crime in a way that other major cities have been.

“But these County Lines operations are not just drug related crimes, they also see vulnerable young people and adults exploited and trapped in often violent conditions.

“As a region, we are targeting those responsible head on, seeking out their networks and breaking them up while at the same time offering support to those exploited by these criminals and directing them away from a life of crime.”

Among those arrested in North Yorkshire were three men from Harrogate intercepted by plain clothed police officers and a from Harrogate who was charged to court within 24 hours of his arrest.

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. 

The visits were carried out in the Harrogate, Skipton and Scarborough areas. 
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.

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.