Operation Trespass will highlight drugs gangs cuckooing efforts

Essex Police

Essex Police is one of the partners working with the Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit - Credit: Essex Police

The Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit is launching Operation Trespass to raise awareness of cuckooing.

They have 50,000 leaflets and posters going out to community partners, police stations and to victims and their neighbours. The material will describe the signs and tell people who to go to for help.

Cuckooing is when vulnerable people are targeted by drug gangs who take over their homes and use them as bases for drug dealing.

The gang manipulates people to gain access to their properties, often targeting those with drug and alcohol addictions, financial problems and learning difficulties.

Gang members then move into the victim’s home and use it for crime and exploitation, including storing, converting or dealing drugs.

In some cases, victims have abandoned their homes and ended up living on the streets.

DCI Jim White

DCI Jim White - Credit: DCI Jim White

Detective Chief Inspector Jim White said:  “Cuckooing is part of the drug dealers’ business model, and it’s more prevalent now because of Covid-19.

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"The gangs would previously use Airbnb, guest houses or hotels to set up but now they’ve been forced to use individuals’ houses.

“When we find dealers on the streets from London, they’ve generally all got somewhere they’ll go back to. Covid has made travelling on the train more risky for them, so they prefer to find a local base to operate from.”

Spotting the signs that cuckooing is taking place is one way that the public can look out for their neighbours and help stop this criminal activity.  

“Every case is slightly different, but we’d look for people who you wouldn’t expect to see at the premises.

“Are there more people staying there than there should be? Is the property a mess? Is the owner guarded and fearful when talking? Are they not keeping appointments or letting other people into their house?

“You might go to an old person’s house and see things that seem out of place; trainers, Coke cans and McDonald’s wrappers.

"There might also be signs of drug use, signs of money and phones. Often, the gang members are 15 or 16-year-olds but it’s the people behind them that are the problem if you don’t let them stay – it’s the implied threat.

“People with learning difficulties have come to us for help and struggled to express what is happening but they’re scared, they don’t want to go back to their house because their house has been taken over by drug dealers.”

Operation Trespass aims to make it more difficult for the drug gangs to work their way into the homes of the vulnerable, and subsequently Essex communities. 

DCI White added: “I know of numerous cases of people who have been trapped in a situation they cannot get themselves out of, merely by allowing someone into their home.

“What seemed like a good idea at the time has led to months, sometimes years, of torture for them.

"Their lives have been completely taken over by the County Lines gang, which in some cases has made them suicidal, it’s really tragic.

"But if we can increase reporting and increase awareness, we can make it really difficult for these exploiters to get a foothold in our communities.”

In the past year the Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit, a multi agency team, has provided training to more than 450 police and partner agency employees to recognise the signs of cuckooing.