‘Cuckooing’ warning to vulnerable

‘Cost of living crisis’ fuelling rise in criminals taking over homes

Friday, 18th March — By Anna Lamche

Sue Lukes and Rosamund Harris

Cllr Sue Lukes, left, and Islington’s community safety officer Rosamund Harris who works closely with Cllr Lukes on policy

POLICE and the Town Hall have issued a “look out for your neighbours” plea amid a rise in “cuckooing” – where criminals take over the homes of vulnerable residents.

It is feared that the “cost of living crisis” is fuelling the increase in cases with residents offered help paying bills by criminals looking to move into their property.

Once inside, there have been reports of drug dealing, sexual exploitation and homes being used to store weapons. An extreme version of the practice was dramatised in the police TV drama Line Of Duty.

On Friday, eight police officers gathered for a street briefing outside Finsbury Park Underground along with Councillor Sue Lukes, Islington’s safety chief. They have identified Holloway, Finsbury Park and Junction wards as cuckooing hotspots.

“There’s a cost of living crisis, energy costs are rising and prices are going up in the supermarkets,” said Cllr Lukes. “If you are a vulnerable person trying to manage on benefits already, and somebody savvy comes along and says: ‘Are you having trouble with the bills?’ – that’s a problem. It’s another hook to draw people in with.”

The Islington operation follows a similar one in Camden, where five properties that had been “cuckooed” were recently closed.

Sergeant Abs Manji

At the street briefing, officers shared details of a Camden property that was shut down after officers found more than 150 wraps of class-A drugs hidden beneath a cooker; the same address was being used for child criminal exploitation and the sexual exploitation of a woman.

At another cuckooed address in the neighbouring borough, officers found evidence of an individual being tortured with hot water by criminals – although police have stressed this was an extreme case.

Cllr Lukes said there are some clear signs to look out for when trying to determine if a property has been cuckooed. “You might have lots of people coming in and out, these might be people who are aggressive or carrying weapons, very often drug users will turn up,” she said. “It would be great if people notice and report it before it gets to that stage.”

Cllr Lukes added: “If people notice an elderly person who is maybe a little confused and seems to have a lot of rather odd characters turning up, then a council officer or police officer will visit. Perhaps he’ll say: ‘They’re my nephew and his friends’ – then that’s OK. But if he’s finding it difficult to say who they are, then it’s clear what’s going on.

“At that point it’s time to move in on it and get it out of everybody’s lives.”

Police Sergeant Abs Manji said: “We’re creating awareness, we’re saying: don’t be afraid. You might be worried about your tenancy or somebody else’s, but we don’t want to move people. We just want to make sure we catch the perpetrators and protect people further.”

He added: “If you are afraid of calling up, then let us know anonymously [via Crimestoppers], and we’ll come down and knock on the door and make sure everything is OK. Cuckooing is linked to so many other crimes – child sexual exploitation, gangs, drug dealing. It impacts the community on such a wide scale.

“We need local people to come forward and tell us what’s happening in their community.”

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