A ‘NO-NONSENSE’ policing unit responsible for disrupting organised criminality including drug rings across Barnsley has had its funding extended for another year due to its success.

Last August, £1.6m of Home Office funding was awarded to South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings to initiate the violence reduction unit (VRU), which has an emphasis on stopping gang-related activity in areas such as Goldthorpe and the Dearne Valley.

The funding has been matched again due to its success, which has notably seen the seizure of thousands of counterfeit tobacco across the borough and the breaking up of several six-figure cannabis factories in the town centre, Wombwell, Royston, Kingstone and Worsbrough Common.

Dr Billings said: “I very much welcome this additional funding of £1.6m for the next financial year as it enables the recently-established violence reduction unit to continue its work for this financial year.

“We shall be able to continue some of these projects and add others between now and the end of March 2021.

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“I am quite clear that we must do two things. We must come down hard on those who resort to violence and the gangs where it often breeds.

“But we must also understand the reasons why people are drawn to crime in the first place and find ways of steering them away from it.”

New crime figures, released by the Office for National Statistics, show just a one per cent increase in overall levels of recorded crime across the borough.

But despite overall levels of stability, the number of specific crimes involving possession of drugs or weapons has sharply risen - with the latter the highest since 2003, the earliest year on record.

From December 2018 to December 2019, Barnsley’s Community Safety Partnership - a combination of emergency services, the council and health and probation services - recorded a 28 per cent increase in crimes involving possession of weapons, from 191 cases to 245.

Drugs possession offences increased from 478 to 602 across the same period - a 26 per cent rise.

Detective Sergeant Lee Wilson added: “We know that drug-related crime has a marked and, at times, devastating impact on our local communities and I hope the public is reassured by the action taken to disrupt the activities of those who would seek to commit this crime.

“This operation, while large-scale and very successful, must not be taken in isolation and we will not be resting on our laurels. We will catch up with criminals and we will do everything we can to disrupt illegal activities, which cause harm to the public.

“Our actions are also closely informed by the public we serve and I’d like to take this opportunity to urge anyone with concerns about drugs or other crime in their community to contact police, or Crimestoppers anonymously if you’re not comfortable speaking to us directly.”

Rachel Staniforth, joint head of the VRU, said the cash will allow the team to continue building on the first year’s successes.

“It is excellent news that we have received further funding and are able to progress with the work that is already underway,” she added.

“During the first year, we have produced an area profile and response strategy as a requirement of the Home Office funding. This looks at the causes of the causes of violence and crime across Barnsley.

“The funding for the 2020/21 financial year will allow us to embed these priorities and work with our partners on delivering interventions to prevent and reduce violence.”

If you have any information about suspected drug crime in your community, you can report this to police on 101. You can also contact the independent charity Crimestoppers completely anonymously via their website - www.crimestoppers-uk.org - or by calling 0800 555 111.