VULNERABLE adults whose homes were taken over by drug dealers, known as cuckooing, have been identified and offered safeguarding support as part of a county-wide initiative.
Police officers and partner agencies – including housing associations, social care and drug support services – are working together to protect those at risk from criminals who use violence and threats to gain access to their home.
The police-led initiative involves identifying those at risk and engaging with them before offering regular visits and support to enable them to keep themselves safe.
Anyone who is deemed at serious risk of cuckooing is referred to partner agencies or police if information comes to light that cuckooing may be taking place at an address.
An assessment is then carried out before visits are made by local officers to engage with the adult and support them to prevent the situation from continuing.
The pilot was first launched in Macclesfield in September 2019.
It resulted in 16 referrals being made with a number of vulnerable people safeguarded, and the disruption of drugs being supplied into the town.
Due to its success, it was subsequently rolled out across the county last month and now further 30 adults have been protected in towns across Cheshire.
The criminals operate under a county lines model by exporting drugs from larger cities into more rural areas.
They will use the vulnerable person’s house as a base to deal and store drugs as well as money, weapons and drug paraphernalia. The vulnerable victim may have disabilities, mental health problems or may have once been addicted to drugs themselves. Behind closed doors they are often badly beaten, banished to live in one room of the house and terrified of the strangers now living in their home. Officers need the public’s help to identify vulnerable adults who may be at risk by learning what signs to look out for and to report it to police.
Detective Inspector Eleanor Atkinson, who is in charge of the operation, said: “This is a great initiative which protects and supports some of the most vulnerable people in our community who are exploited by criminals causing them serious harm.
“Some of the cases I have seen are truly heartbreaking and I can’t begin to imagine how terrifying it must be for those living in fear in their own home.
“While we have eight dedicated officers working with our partners to identify and safeguard them we also need the public to learn what signs to look out for and to report this behaviour to us.
“This initiative will also help to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour that is often linked to the supply of drugs.
“All of this hard work along with the public coming forward will help play a significant part in making our community a safer place for everyone to live.”
Below are some of the signs the public can look out for:
• Increased or frequent numbers of visitors at the property
• Individuals taking over a vulnerable person’s address
• Vulnerable people scared, threatened or coerced
• Individuals with cash or mobile phones
• Signs that drug misuse could be taking place at the property
David Keane, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, said: “I would like to thank all the officers involved in this initiative which has already been successful in protecting vulnerable adults and our communities from criminals associated with serious and organised crime.
“These criminals exploit and manipulate people simply to aid their criminal enterprises.
“As Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, I know how dedicated officers are in fighting against these drug dealers and protecting those most at harm.”
If you believe someone is a victim of cuckooing, or have information about drug activity in your area, please call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or Cheshire Police on 101.