There will be calls for cuckooing to be made a criminal offence at the first ever major conference on the issue at the University of Leeds.
The former leader of the Conservative Party, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, will join police and criminal justice professionals, policy makers and the voluntary sector for the event which will look at ways to tackle the problem.
The conference has been organised by Dr Laura Bainbridge, a Lecturer in Criminal Justice at the University and the founder and chair of the Cuckooing Research & Prevention Network, which is funded by Research England.
Cuckooing occurs when organised crime groups take control of a vulnerable adult's address, usually as a site from which to prepare, store, or sell drugs. They are often involved in so-called ‘county lines’ drug distribution networks, which cross police and local authority boundaries, and resort to cuckooing to avoid police detection.
The disturbing practice has featured as a plot line in two BBC dramas – ‘Happy Valley’ and ‘Line of Duty.’
It is high time that this awful practice is made a new criminal offence to punish the perpetrators and recognise and support its victims
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who is the Conservative MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, is campaigning for cuckooing to be criminalised as part of an overhaul of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act. He is one of the keynote speakers at the conference.
“Cuckooing, often connected to serious organised crime, is currently falling through the gaps in the criminal law leaving vulnerable people in fear in their own home,” he said.
“It is high time that this awful practice is made a new criminal offence to punish the perpetrators and recognise and support its victims.”
Among those often targeted for cuckooing are people who suffer from drug and/or alcohol addiction, those who are struggling financially, the elderly, people with mental health issues and individuals with learning disabilities.
Because it is not a criminal offence, there are currently no official statistics available for cuckooing, but according to a Freedom of Information request, West Yorkshire Police recorded four crimes which contained the keyword ‘cuckooing’ in the crime notes between April 2022 and March 2023. Of these crimes, three involved victims with a disability.
During a national crackdown on county lines in October 2021 in which all police forces in England and Wales targeted drug traffickers involved in recruiting children and vulnerable adults, 894 cuckooed addresses were visited.
Emerging and promising practice
The two-day conference at the University of Leeds’ School of Law on 30 and 31 January will explore emerging and promising practices from across the UK that are being used to tackle cuckooing victimisation as well as showcasing training that is already being delivered to professionals.
Dr Bainbridge said: “County Lines 'cuckooing' is an inherently predatory and exploitative practice that can have a devastating impact on victims and communities.
“In launching the Cuckooing Research & Prevention Network, my aim is to facilitate the sharing of research evidence and promising prevention strategies between members, and in doing so, work to ensure that vulnerable people can feel safe in their own homes."
Among those also speaking at the conference will be the award-winning children’s author Christina Gabbitas who has written a comic strip-style story for youngsters entitled ‘No more knives or county lines’ about a group of friends groomed by drug traffickers who then suffer the consequences of carrying a knife.
In addition to organising the conference, Dr Bainbridge is also leading a project to pilot a bespoke cuckooing risk assessment tool which could be used by social housing providers. Later this year she will also be involved in the delivery of a series of awareness raising and prevention sessions with practitioners operating across West Yorkshire.
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