Table of Contents

The problem:

“Cuckooing is a practice where people take over a person’s home and use the property to facilitate exploitation. It takes the name from cuckoos who take over the nests of other birds. The most common form of cuckooing is where drug dealers take over a person’s home and use it to store or distribute drugs.”

The Challenge:

  • Cuckooing’ is the process of exploitation. It is not a defined crime
  • This is a complex issue for law enforcement and other agencies
  • Victims may be ‘complicit’ in criminal activity if they have allowed illegal activity in their property. This can lead to missed opportunities to identify vulnerabilities and needs of the individual concerned.
  • Victims often reluctant to inform others of their situation due to fear of repercussions (e.g. eviction, violence, police involvement) Victims do not always recognise that they are being exploited
  • Many agencies do not routinely collect intelligence on cuckooing
  • The intricacies of offender / victim relationship and any agreements between them are not easily understood.

The Method:

  • Exploiters establish a relationship with the vulnerable person to access their home. Once they gain control over the victim – whether through drug dependency, debt or as part of their relationship – larger groups will sometimes move in. This is often seen in county lines. Across the country local drugs enterprises have adopted the county lines model and exploit the vulnerable to further their interests. Threats are often used to control the victim. If the exploiters are known to the victim they may not initially see things for what they are, nor see themselves as vulnerable and a victim.
  • Tenants are often provided with drugs as a means of compensation.
  • There are examples of more sinister control tactics being employed by criminal groups such as prolonged sexual and financial abuse of the lawful tenant. These elements are not often reported.

Victim Characteristics

Research shows some common characteristics of victims of cuckooing:

  • Drug use (or history of use)
  • Mental health issues
  • Learning or physical disability
  • Unemployment
  • Previous homelessness
  • Social isolation (e.g. older people)
  • Care leavers, it may be their first tenancy and experience of independent living

Signs of cuckooing in our communities:

  • Different people coming and going from a property during the day and night
  • Suspicious smells coming from the property
  • Windows covered or curtains closed all hours of the day
  • Cars pulling up to or near to the property for a short period of time
  • Increase in ASB around the property
  • New or regularly changing residents
  • Change in resident’s mood or behaviour (e.g. secretive, withdrawn, aggressive, emotional) and disengagement with services.
  • Change in appearance / unkept / unwashed as person has no access to their belongings or washing.
  • Substance misuse and/or drug paraphernalia
  • Unexplained presence of cash, clothes and other items of value.
  • Concerns that the inhabitant of the property has not been seen for a while – they may feel too afraid to leave the house or may have been prevented from doing so by the drug gang.
  • Or, the occupant may be spending more time away from their property whilst others are there.

The proposal:

To develop two Cuckooing victim referral pathways to safeguard the vulnerable. One for policing (internally) and one for professionals (externally). These have been undertaken with engagement of key partners from the Safer Peterborough Partnership.

The overarching objectives are to build trust and confidence with vulnerable and exploited members of our communities, supporting them to maintain their tenancy/find alternative accommodation, as well as accessing support services; whilst at the same time preventing visitors to the address, reducing community impact and improving confidence and engagement with services.

Policing (Internal) Referral

Professional (external) referral:

Examples of tactics to be employed by partners:

  • NPT officers to conduct frequent reassurance visits to the address and the local area to deter exploiters away from the property, enabling professionals to work with the exploited individual and implement safeguarding.
  • Tenant information letter (Appendix 1) or Social landlords information letter (Appendix 2) to provide tenant that we have concerns about the activity within their accommodation. This also provides the potential victim with a means of showing individuals who are exploiting them that he / she is at risk of losing the accommodation.
  • If a warrant is to be executed at the address, consideration is to be given with other professionals as to how best support the victim in the planning stages.
  • Professionals to consider if a Closure Notice/Order will help protect the victim in their home (excluding visitors to the address) and help reduce community impact.
  • Other interventions to be considered such as CBOs, Injunctions or Community Protection Notices requiring perpetrators to stay away from the victim and other vulnerable adults in the community, etc. Such interventions could also be considered for non-compliant tenants if they chose not to engage with support and remain at the property.
  • Early engagement with victims who seek support to prevent them from becoming a victim, without involving the Police due to fear of reprisals. Agencies should assess each case to consider if early and informal intervention would be appropriate.

Consideration could be given to informal preventative measures to deter visitors from the address – for example:

  • The housing provider could issue an Acceptable Behaviour Contract prohibiting visitors.
  • Regular visits by a housing/ASB officer or support worker – whilst supporting the victim to gain the confidence to report to the Police. However, where there are significant concerns, professionals will have a duty to refer to the Police and follow safeguarding reporting procedures.

Appendix 1 – Suggested Tenant Information Letter

There is a suggested content for the letter / notice below. This can be tailored to the individual circumstances.

Dear Sir / Madam,

Your premises have been identified as being a possible target for exploitation from drug gangs. This may be from previous information, and/or arrest statistics.

We understand that it is a common tactic for drug gangs to occupy another vulnerable person’s premises which they then use as a base for their drugs operation. In so doing, this often implicates the occupier in criminal offence(s), and in some cases leads to their prosecution. Whilst officers may recognise that the user is potentially a victim in such circumstances, little can be done at this stage when offences are revealed.

During this initiative, we hope to work with you, and deter organised drug dealing gangs from seeking occupancy in your home. We seek to achieve this with routine unannounced visits, protecting you and deterring others from targeting you. Cambridgeshire Police will work with partnership agencies, such as housing, mental health, and drug workers to help provide you with support for any needs that are identified.

This approach will not render you immune from prosecution. We will still take robust enforcement action where consensual involvement is identified. We will share information with housing providers to support any tenancy action they may wish to take.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me on the details listed below.

Many thanks for your anticipated co-operation.

Appendix 2 – Suggested Social Landlords Information Letter

Where the exploitation is taking place in premises provided by housing associations or local authority it may be feasible to make them aware of the ongoing issues and enlist their help and support. Below is suggested content to formulate a letter. You may wish to add additional information, contact details or amend to suit your situation.

Dear Sir / Madam,

As a local housing provider I wish to raise your awareness of an ongoing issue affecting Cambridgeshire and hope that we can work together to protect vulnerable resident’s from exploitation by drugs gangs.

It is a common tactic for drug gangs to occupy another vulnerable person’s premises which they then use as a base for their drugs operation. Although this occupation may start with the consent of the occupant the imbalance of power soon creates a situation where their presence is unwanted. However they remain there as a result of violence, intimidation or coercion.

As a result the occupiers are trapped in a difficult situation as they are afraid to call the police through fear of prosecution or retribution. There is additional community impact caused by the related anti-social behaviour, violence and increased instances of discarded drug paraphernalia in the area

Cambridgeshire Police are determined to tackle drug dealing within our communities and continue to work hard to identify and prosecute offenders. However, we recognise that we must identify vulnerability and safeguard those at risk.

We have identified an address which has previously been targeted on one or more occasions. Our intention is to work with the individual and other agencies such as yourselves to support these individuals to protect them from further harm.

We would like to do this by conducting a joint visit, with your representative, to discuss what support is available, to provide advice and guidance to prevent further issues and agree regular visits to provide ongoing support

Local officers will routinely call at the premises. The objective is to make these premises hostile to drug dealers through routine and high visibility presence. Should tenants continue to harbour drug dealers we would seek your support with sanctions such as tenancy conditions, warning letters and evictions.

Many thanks for your anticipated co-operation.