Crime reporter KATE LIPTROT talks to one of North Yorkshire’s leading detectives about the vital role the public can play in bringing major criminals to justice.

PEOPLE living a luxury lifestyle without ever appearing to work may be involved in organised crime, says one of North Yorkshire’s most senior detectives.

In recent months, Detective Chief Inspector Steve Smith’s organised crime unit – a team of detectives and support staff tackling crimes including drug dealing, fraud, people trafficking, immigration crime and burglaries to order - has seen gangs jailed for dealing heroin and cocaine on a large scale in York and across North Yorkshire.

York’s Stephen Robert Small was sentenced to 12 years for running a network bringing hundreds of thousands of pounds of drugs into the city, and 13 others were given sentences after evidence was gathered in a huge surveillance operation including undercover filming and recordings.

An 11-year sentence was also handed to Nathaniel Hollywood and ten others for dealing cocaine from Thirsk following a lengthy operation overseen by the unit and carried out by Northallerton CID.

The detailed work of staff and detectives will continue, Det Chief Insp Smith said, but as financial constraints are put on the police, he has appealed for further public help in finding those involved in organised crime.

“The challenge for us is to continue with the momentum to ensure that we continue to get the intelligence from the public that often first identifies these criminals,” he said.

“People think organised crime has something mystical about it, but it doesn’t really. It often starts at a very low level. It could be someone who doesn’t appear to have ever done a day’s work in their life but has all the trappings of luxury on your doorstep. With people of a certain age, if it doesn’t look right it probably isn’t right. I would encourage people to report those concerns.

“There is often a correlation between someone living a lifestyle beyond any immediately obvious means and their involvement in organised crime.

“The public should never underestimate the value of the information they can give to the police. “Invariably, the people about whom the information is given will sit within our knowledge, but the information they give us can often be the piece that completes the jigsaw or gives us the opportunity to start an inquiry.”

He said the impact of organised crime on communities includes the breakdown of family life associated with drug addiction and violence “in terms of how people seek to control what they see as their business market”.

Det Chief Insp Smith would not discuss the methods used by detectives to gather evidence in detail but said they used “the full array of tactics the law allows us to do to protect the public”. But he said the “fight is constantly ongoing” against people involved in organised crime.

He said known criminals can be convicted and taken “out of circulation” if found to be guilty of other unrelated offences such as drink-driving.

Discussing the jailing of Small, 29, of Dodsworth Avenue, in June, Det Chief Insp Smith said: “It started out with some good and persistent work by the local beat officer in terms of his talking, finding things out, raising his concerns. “It went on and was extremely complex and lengthy and the evidence was gathered through almost tortuous routes but, suffice to say after significant scrutiny in trial, the people were convicted.

“I hope the public have taken some satisfaction from it.

“The vast majority of people in that area work hard or are seeking to work hard and generally do so to get what they own. I hope they take some satisfaction knowing that people who sought to probably bring down their neighbourhood and have not been a good influence on young people are in custody.

“If people are out there and think they will fill the gap then they need to be thinking ‘who is next?’”