Spotting the signs of cuckooing

As part of ASB Awareness Week, we’re working with Sussex Police to visit areas in the city where reports of anti-social behaviour are rising.

We’ll be talking to residents about their concerns and the importance of reporting all anti-social behaviour.

Anti-social behaviour can cause considerable harm to victims and communities. It can also be an indicator of more serious criminal activity, such as drug dealing and organised crime.

An example of this is ‘cuckooing’ – a term used for organised criminal networks taking over the property of a vulnerable person to use as a base to deal drugs. 

The signs of cuckooing

Cuckooing is a form of criminal exploitation, often linked to modern slavery including the trafficking of children and vulnerable adults. 

Organised criminal networks often target people who are lonely, isolated or have addiction issues, a mental health issue or a learning difficulty. 

It’s common for these networks to use a property for a short amount of time, moving address frequently to reduce the chance of getting caught. 

Cuckooing is a nationwide issue and is closely linked to ‘county lines’ which is a way in which organised criminal networks distribute drugs. 

Sussex Police and the council work closely with key organisations in the city as part of a wider safeguarding response, such as mental health and substance misuse services and local housing providers, to ensure we’re doing all we can to protect vulnerable people and disrupt the work of the organised criminal networks.

There are several signs to look out for, including frequent visitors to the property, changes in routine, unusual smells coming from a property or suspicious, unfamiliar vehicles outside an address.

Effective action relies on early reporting

Councillor Steph Powell, co-chair of the Tourism, Equalities, Communities & Culture committee, said: “Cuckooing is a particularly nasty crime as it preys on the vulnerable, elderly and young.

“Gangs operate in Brighton & Hove due to the high demand for drugs, and we’ve seen the significant impact the associated anti-social behaviour can have on our neighbourhoods.

“If you have any concerns about a young or vulnerable person being exploited or an address in your neighbourhood, please do report it to make sure victims can get the help they need.  

“Early reporting allows services to work together and take action to tackle the problem.”

Chief Superintendent Nick May, Sussex Police’s Divisional Commander for Brighton & Hove, said: “Cuckooing is truly deplorable and we will not tolerate criminals exploiting vulnerable members of the community in Brighton & Hove. 

“Through our work with partner agencies, we have made great progress in addressing instances of suspected cuckooing and other anti-social behaviour in the city and we continue to build on this.

“Our officers are out patrolling every day in the city and watch for signs of exploitation so steps can be taken to safeguard vulnerable people and take action against those causing harm in the community.

“We all have a part to play to help keep Brighton & Hove a safe place to live and we urge anyone with information or concerns about cuckooing, or any other form of anti-social behaviour, to report it to us so we can take robust action.”

Reporting anti-social behaviour and hate crime

Everyone in Brighton & Hove has a right to feel safe.

We encourage anyone who has experienced anti-social behaviour or hate incidents, including harassment, to report it.

Brighton & Hove City Council works closely with the police and our communities to prevent anti-social behaviour and hate incidents and support anyone affected.

Council tenants and housing association tenants who have experienced ASB or hate incidents in or near their home should report it to their landlord.

You can contact our community safety team by:

Or report anti-social behaviour and hate incidents to Sussex Police or call them on 101 if it’s not an emergency.

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