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7 June, 2018

Project Kraken – Keeping people safe in North Yorkshire

Boats exchanging illegal drugs, suspect packages tossed overboard, a dramatic interception at sea and police dog searches in the harbour – that was the scene at Whitby Harbour today (Wednesday 6 June) as North Yorkshire Police and other agencies carried out a live practice exercise for Project Kraken.

Launched several years ago as a counter-terrorism initiative, Project Kraken is an ongoing national project involving the police, the Border Force and other agencies. It aims to prevent and deter potential terrorist and criminal activity around the country’s ports and coastline.

Peter Wakefield, one of North Yorkshire Police’s Ports Officers, explains: “North Yorkshire has around 40 miles of coastline, and it is really important that we protect that border. As well as being a possible access point for terrorist-connected activity, organised crime gangs involved in drug and people smuggling sometimes make use of ports and coasting landings so we have to be vigilant. We want to make the Heritage Coast a “no go” area for anyone with criminal intent.”

North Yorkshire Police undertakes many exercises as a routine part of police work, but the Project Kraken event in Whitby is on a larger scale, and aims to test how various different agencies and organisations can work together in the event of a real incident. As well as North Yorkshire Police and the Border Force, the coastguard, the RNLI, the Harbour Master team at Whitby Harbour and the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority are all involved in the exercise.

Said Peter Wakefield: “The scenario for this exercise is that goods and people have been seen to pass between two vessels at sea, and a number of items have been thrown into the water, possibly to evade detection by police and Border Force. The different agencies involved will practice incepting a vessel and bringing it in to harbour, retrieving the suspect packages and carrying out a thorough search of the vessel. We’re also testing out someone jumping overboard in an attempt to evade capture – although it will be a dummy of course! Exercises like this are really important in helping us to see how the different agencies interact in a “live” situation. It helps to make sure we are primed and ready if a real incident should occur.”

A key part of Project Kraken is encouraging the public to be alert to any criminal or suspicious activity and report it to the police or anonymously to Crimestoppers. Alongside the live exercise, North Yorkshire Police is launching new public information leaflets and posters with the headline “Shore, sea or port, make a report”. These are being distributed to businesses and venues along the coast to spread awareness of the signs to look out for, and are also available on the Force’s website.

In an extension to the usual activity,new Project Kraken signage will be installed along the coastline and this will be publicized as part of the live exercise. The signage has been organised by Scarborough Borough Council working with the Public Health Team at North Yorkshire County Council and the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, Julia Mulligan, who provided financial support. In addition to asking the public to spot suspicious activity, the new signage asks for the public to be alert to people in distress, who appear vulnerable, or who even may be considering self-harm. The signs include individual location numbers, to help the public give an exact location to local emergency services which will assist in a speedy response.

Sandra Rees, Scarborough Borough Council’s Community Safety and Safeguarding Manager said: “We were already working with the public health team at North Yorkshire County Council in relation to suicde prevention, and this extended into conversations with the Harbour Master about helping the public to understand what to do if they see suspicious activity. That all ties in very closely with the “make a report” idea that Project Kraken promotes, so it just seemed logical to bring it all together in one signage initiative. It’s a good example of different organisations working together to keep people safe, and I’d like to thank all those involved in getting the initiative in place.”

The installation of the signage will contribute to a county-wide suicide prevention strategy, led by the Public Health Team at North Yorkshire County Council. According to figures from the team, there were 89 incidents of suicide in North Yorkshire between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2018, a significant rise on the previous year when 54 suicides were recorded. Four of the suicides in 2017/18 were on the North Yorkshire Coast – a figure that the authorities and emergency services are keen to see reduced.

Claire Robinson is a Health Improvement Manager at North Yorkshire County Council, and she explains the thinking behind the new signage:

“The Public Health Team at North Yorkshire County Council is leading on a county-wide initiative to try to prevent suicides, and we have joined up with Project Kraken to produce this coastal signage as part of that strategy. Obviously if someone is in immediate danger you should always call 999, but the new signs also provide the public and vulnerable people with the local Samaritans telephone number. The Samaritans helpline offers people who may be struggling to cope a safe space to talk and get help, and there is evidence to suggest that this can be a positive intervention in potential suicide areas. It may seem a simple thing to do, but it could be the difference between a desperate person getting help, instead of contemplating taking their own life.”

Julia Mulligan, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, also contributed to the costs of installing the new coastal signage. She said:

“This is a very important project, and the very good work done by the police and our partners protecting our coastline isn’t given the prominence it deserves. I am committed to keeping people safe in North Yorkshire, and Project Kraken not only helps stop criminality coming in through ports but can also deter and prevent serious safeguarding issues like human trafficking. Other issues often play out on coastlines too, such as individuals struggling with their mental health and contemplating suicide. Paying for these signs is only one piece of the puzzle, but I am very pleased to be supporting this important work.”

Commenting on the signage extension to Project Kraken, North Yorkshire Police’s Peter Wakefield said: “As part of preparing for the live operation this week we have been out and about in Whitby Harbour and around the coast, and we’ve noticed people really stopping and looking at the new Project Kraken signs. I’m really hopeful that we are going to see an uplift in reporting of suspicious activity from the public, and if we can help to protect even one vulnerable person from harm through these same signs then that would be a terrific result.”

Information on what to look out for on the coast, as well as a Project Kraken posters to download, are available at www.northyorkshire.police.uk/kraken

If you do spot something suspicious on the coastline call the police on 101 and quote Project Kraken. You can also call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. In an emergency always call 999.