‘Cuckooing’ may not be a term you are familiar with, but it could be happening in a house near you and Wiltshire Police wants to know about it.
Criminal gangs are targeting vulnerable people living in housing association and council accommodation by befriending them and then taking over their homes to deal drugs – otherwise known as cuckooing.
The rewards for cuckooing are manifold – gangs from large cities like London, Birmingham and Bristol are able to operate from an unobtrusive home, using the premises to prepare and deal drugs in a safe environment, under the police radar – or so they think.
The occupants of the home, who are often vulnerable drug users themselves, sometimes with mental health issues and less frequently, the elderly, are told their families will be harmed if they call the police.
Detective Inspector Paul Franklin is from the Dedicated Crime Team (DCT) at Wiltshire Police. The role of the DCT is to combat the threat posed by these gangs.
He said: “The members of these gangs are very persuasive – they’ll cross county lines in a bid to take over the homes of vulnerable people. They’ll treat the home as their own, they’ll make threats to the occupants with violence and serious assaults being common place. They’ll also carry weapons including knives in a bid to intimidate the occupants and protect their criminal enterprises.
“These people think they will fall under the police radar in counties like Wiltshire, but we are working extremely hard to disrupt these gangs and protect the county’s most vulnerable people from being cuckooed.”
As part of Op Karine, officers are carrying out high visibility patrols in the Salisbury area this week following early morning raids last week. These patrols are being held in conjunction with partners from Wiltshire Council and Turning Point to ensure any vulnerable drug users in the area are signposted to the appropriate agencies and provided with the support they require.
Tracy Daszkiewicz, Wiltshire Council director of public health (interim), said: “People with a dependency on drugs are extremely vulnerable. We’re working hard with our substance misuse partners to intervene as early as possible and make sure they get support quickly, and to help prevent them from falling further into desperate situations.
“We want people that find themselves in this situation to be assured that there is support out there for them. We’d also ask people to look out for any vulnerable neighbours who might be susceptible to this type of crime and to report anything suspicious – if we all work together we can help stop this happening in our communities.”
Setanta O’Kelly, Operations Manager at Turning Point’s substance misuse service in Wiltshire said: “Following Operation Karine, Turning Point has received a number of referrals for people who are willing to address their substance misuse problem. We have been working with Wiltshire Police to ensure that people with a substance misuse problem feel safe following the crackdown and are aware of the support that is available to them.
“We offer a range of treatment pathways which includes a group programme, counselling, motivational enhancement therapy, a needle and syringe exchange, prescribing clinics, out of hours clinics, wellbeing clinics, recovery coordination, BBV testing, nurse wellbeing clinics, family work, housing advice and referral. If you are worried about your or someone else’s substance misuse, call us on one of these numbers: Trowbridge Hub: 01225 718980, Salisbury Hub: 01722 343000, Chippenham Hub: 01249 440270 and out of hours: 0345 6036993.”
In 2016 alone, the Dedicated Crime Teams covering Wiltshire made a total of 256 arrests - many of these were related to drugs gangs and a high number were people from outside of the county.
DI Franklin added: “It is really important that Wiltshire’s residents understand what cuckooing is, how it can come about and what to look out for – we rely on information we receive from the public to keep people safe so I would encourage anyone who thinks it may be happening in their neighbourhood to call police and report it – we will always act on information we receive and your call could help save someone from potentially losing control of their property to a dangerous drug dealer and even being imprisoned themselves. Please be reassured that your call will be treated with the strictest confidence.”
If you suspect drug activity in your area, call police on 101, Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 where information can be left anonymously if preferred. Alternatively, call the Dedicated Crime Team’s direct on 01793 267011 (North Wiltshire) or 01380 861144 (South Wiltshire).