What is cuckooing? Meaning, county lines and chemsex crime definition, signs of abuse - how to report offence

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How to spot the signs of cuckooing - and how to report it to the authorities

Cuckooing is a crime in which a criminal takes over a vulnerable person’s home and uses it for their own living quarters, drug dealing, drug storage, drug consumption, the facilitation of sex work, or financial exploitation.

Victims are often people suffering from addiction, the elderly, those suffering from mental or physical health problems, female sex workers, single mums and those living in poverty. In the UK, the practice is often associated with county lines drug trafficking.

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The phrase “cuckooing” in reference to an unwelcome trespasser who enters a victim’s home with the intent of using it as a criminal base, originates from the cuckoo’s habit of using other birds’ nests as its own to raise its young.

But what are the signs of the criminal practice, and who can you contact if you suspect a property is being used in an illegal manner? Here is everything you need to know.

What are the signs of cuckooing?

(Photo: DOMINICK REUTER/AFP via Getty Images)(Photo: DOMINICK REUTER/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo: DOMINICK REUTER/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

As police officers seek to clamp down on the “cuckooing” of vulnerable people’s homes by drug dealers, gangs have started to operate from Airbnbs and hotel rooms.

Detective Superintendent Jo Banks, the senior detective leading the fight against county lines drug gangs in Sussex,told PA it is a real challenge for police to keep pace with the fast-changing criminal activity.

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Banks said: “What we are starting to see now is it’s not just houses, it’s Airbnbs as well, and hotels. People need to be aware, particularly if they own the Airbnb, if they’ve got second homes or whatever, and they’re hiring them out, actually what they’re being used for.”

It is also common for gangs to have access to several addresses and move quickly between vulnerable people’s homes, using them for a few hours or days. This is done in order to help people evade detection. They may also use accommodation in rural areas, including serviced apartments and caravan parks.

According to Crimestoppers, signs that ‘cuckooing’ may be taking place at a property include:

  • An increase in people entering and leaving the property or doing so at odd times
  • An increase in cars or bikes outside
  • Possible increase in anti-social behaviour
  • Increasing litter outside
  • Signs of drugs use
  • Lack of healthcare visitors

According to Healthwatch Central Bedfordshire, signs of cuckooing can also include a change in the behaviour of the resident, for example if they stop engaging with family, neighbours or support services, or appear anxious or distracted.

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Another sign could also be if the front door of the property appears to have been damaged.

How can I report it?

If you have any suspicions or information about cuckooing taking place then you can let Crimestoppers know by calling 0800 555 111 or using the non-traceable online form. You will remain anonymous.

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