This chapter discusses ‘cuckooing‘, which is the term for professional criminal gangs targeting the homes of adults who they have identified as vulnerable. It provides information about victims, perpetrators, signs and what action to take if cuckooing is suspected.
This chapter was added to the APPP in July 2020.
‘Cuckooing‘ is the term for when professional criminal gangs target the homes of adults who they have identified as vulnerable. They then use the property for dealing drugs, hiding firearms, stolen goods and money and other crimes. Arson and violence are other crimes associated with such gangs. The adult victim may have care and support needs, but this is not always the case.
The female cuckoo bird lays its eggs in other birds’ nests, which is where the term comes from.
2. Cuckoo Victims
Cuckooing victims may include:
- people with drug or alcohol problems;
- people already known to the police;
- older people;
- people who have mental or physical health problems;
- people with learning disabilities;
- female sex workers;
- single mums; and
- people living in poverty.
Other adults may also be at risk.
Where the victim is known to have drug problems, criminals often offer them free drugs in exchange for using their home for dealing.
Once they have gained control of the adult and their home there is significant risk to the victim of physical and psychological abuse, sexual exploitation and violence. Such adults are often used as drug runners, to move drugs from one place to another on behalf of the criminals, often under threat of violence if they do not agree (see also County Lines: Criminal Exploitation of Adults chapter).
The adult may be made to travel to places which are a distance away from their local area, but such exploitation make also take place in properties in the same vicinity. Movement of people for the purposes of exploitation is a criminal offence covered by the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (see Modern Slavery chapter), as it is a type of trafficking and slavery.
In such circumstances the victim may not feel they cannot go to the police or tell other professionals, as they are frightened that they will be suspected of being involved in drug dealing or being identified as a member of the gang. They may be afraid this could result in them being evicted from their home. Some victims feel forced out of their homes, or are actually made to leave by the gangs, which makes them homeless.
Gangs may use a number of such residential properties, moving between them within hours, days, weeks or longer in an effort to avoid being detected by the police.
They may use accommodation in rural areas, including serviced apartments, holiday lets, budget hotels and caravan parks, again in an effort to avoid police detection.
Such criminals are very skilled at identifying adults who they think are in some way vulnerable to their coercive behaviour. They are often very business-like in how they operate, with a view to make as much money as possible.
4. Signs of Cuckooing
4.1 Signs an adult is being exploited or abused
The following are some of the signs that an adult is being exploited or abused:
- they associate with someone older than them and / or someone who controls what they do and where they go;
- they travel alone to places far away from home, where they may not have any connections;
- they get more telephone calls or people calling to their property than they usually do;
- they have physical injuries that they cannot, or do not, explain easily;
- they seem quiet and withdrawn, as if something is concerning them that they cannot talk about;
- they are known or suspected to be carrying or selling drugs;
- they are going missing from home or college, work or work placements;
- they have new clothes, possessions, more than one mobile phone or money than they cannot usually afford.
4.2 Signs of cuckooing in a local neighbourhood
The following are some of the signs that accommodation belonging to a vulnerable adult has been taken over by criminal gangs:
- people are entering and leaving the property, often throughout the day and night;
- there is an increase in the number of cars (including new vehicles), bikes, or taxis or hire cars outside the property;
- there is an increase in anti-social behaviour in and around the property, including litter and drug using equipment outside;
- the adult stops attending, or misses, appointments with support and / or healthcare services;
- professionals who visit the property to see the adult see new people there, who may also not introduce themselves;
- the property may not have many or any valuable possessions inside and may start to become neglected as items and stolen and damage is caused by people coming to the property and repairs not made;
- there are signs of drug use in and around the property, including discarded needles, crack pipes for example.
Such properties are often multi-occupancy accommodation (for example, a block of flats or a house that has been converted to a number of flats) or a social housing property.
5. Taking Action
If a member of staff is concerned about that an adult with care and support needs is being victimised by criminal gangs, particularly in their own home they should:
- discuss their concerns with their line manager;
- inform Northumbria Police (see Local Contacts); and
- raising a safeguarding concern with South Tyneside Safeguarding Adults Team (see Stage 1: Concerns).
If a member of staff believes an adult is a victim of cuckooing but they do not have needs for care and support, this is still a crime and should be reported to the police.
All concerns or suspicions should be recorded in the adult’s case records as well as actions that have been taken and decisions that have been made (see Case Recording chapter).