What is cuckooing?

Cuckooing is a practice where people take over a person’s home and use the property to facilitate exploitation.

The most common form of cuckooing is where drug dealers take over a person’s home and use it to store or distribute drugs.

Mark, who was a victim of cuckooing, shares his story

Drug dealers will often target the most vulnerable in society. They are seeking to establish relationships to access the vulnerable person’s 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.

The threat of violence is often used to control the victim.

It is common for the drug dealers to have access to several cuckooed addresses at once, and to move quickly between them to evade detection.

The victims of cuckooing are most commonly class A drug users, but there are cases of victims with learning difficulties, mental health issues and, to a lesser extent, physical disabilities.

For more information about cuckooing, read the National Crime Agency’s County Lines Violence, Exploitation & Drug Supply 2017.

Tackling cuckooing in Oxford

Oxford properties have been targeted by drug dealers operating County Drugs Lines from larger cities such as London, Birmingham or Coventry.

Oxford City Council, Thames Valley Police, Oxfordshire County Council and other support services are working closely together to protect vulnerable people from cuckooing in Oxford.

The agencies meet every two weeks to discuss possible cuckooing cases, share intelligence and find solutions to help individual cuckooing victims.

Councillor Tom Hayes, Oxford City Council’s Executive Board Member for a Safer and Greener Environment, discussing cuckooing in Oxford

Thames Valley Police and Oxford City Council will then carry out regular visits to cuckooed properties.

The drug dealers usually want to avoid detection, so often these visits are enough to scare them away. However, the City Council has also installed CCTV cameras around properties and changed locks to help cuckooing victims.

The City Council had 12 cases of cuckooing in 2018 and six cases in 2017. All the cases followed reports from neighbours or police officers about suspicious activity in City Council-owned properties in Oxford.

In the more extreme cases, the City Council and Thames Valley Police will work together to obtain closure orders or injunctions on the cuckooed properties.

Closure orders restrict who can enter the property. Breaking a closure order is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment, meaning police can immediately arrest drug dealers found in a home with a closure order on it.

Recent closure orders in Oxford to protect vulnerable City Council tenants from cuckooing include in May 2018 against a property in Littlemore and in January 2019 against a property in Oxford. The City Council also secured a two-year injunction against an Oxford man in June 2017 to stop him contacting a cuckooing victim.

The City Council carried out five closure orders in 2018, and four closure orders in 2017.

Monica Walton, Oxford City Council’s dedicated cuckooing officer, discussing her work

After the closure order has been obtained, the City Council, alongside other agencies, will seek to provide support to meet the victim’s individual needs, whether that is treatment for addiction via Turning Point or moving to a safer home through various projects and social housing providers.

The Oxford Public Spaces Drugs Taskforce, which was set up last year to tackle open drug dealing and drug taking in public places in Oxford, also supports the work to help cuckooing victims.

What are the signs of drug cuckooing?

Signs that cuckooing may be going on at a property include:

  • An increase in people entering and leaving
  • An increase in cars or bikes outside  
  • An increase in anti-social behaviour  
  • Increasing litter outside 
  • People coming and going at strange times
  • Damage to the door/the door propped open
  • Unknown people pressing buzzers to gain access to the building
  • You haven't seen the person who lives there recently or, when you have, they have been anxious or distracted

If just one of these is taking place in a neighbouring property, it may not mean anything. But if three or more of them are taking place, it could indicate that the property is being cuckooed.

How to report cuckooing

If you suspect cuckooing to be taking place in a neighbouring property, please report it. You can do so by contacting:

  • Thames Valley Police online or by calling 101, or 999 in an emergency
  • Oxford City Council by emailing [email protected]
  • Crimestoppers, anonymously, online or by calling 0800 555 111