Oxford residents called on to spot the signs of cuckooing to help protect people from drugs exploitation

Published: Monday, 4th February 2019

Oxford residents are being called on to look out for the signs of cuckooing in their neighbourhoods to help local authorities and police protect vulnerable people from drugs exploitation.

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.

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.

In August last year the three organisations launched the Oxford Public Spaces Drugs Taskforce to tackle open drug dealing and drug taking in the city.

Now they are calling on Oxford residents to help support their activity to tackle cuckooing by looking out for the signs of exploitation. The 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 or the door propped open
  • Unknown people pressing buzzers to gain access to the building

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

Anyone with suspicions that cuckooing may be taking place in a neighbouring property should report it 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

Drug dealers, when looking for a property to cuckoo, will often target the most vulnerable people in society. They often seek 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.

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

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.

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

Oxford City Council, Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council meet every two weeks to discuss possible cuckooing cases, share intelligence and find solutions to help individual cuckooing victims.

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.

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

Councillor Tom Hayes, Executive Board Member for a Safer and Greener Environment, said: “Drug slavery is happening right here in Oxford, and the City Council, alongside our partners, are fighting back. We have served closure orders – including in Ferry Hinksey Road, Friars Wharf and Alice Smith Square – to protect vulnerable people from being exploited by drug dealers.

“We believe that everyone should be safe to live in their own home. We call on Oxford residents to spot the signs of exploitation, report them to us or the police, and help their neighbours to get the protection and support they need.”