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Lewisham Safeguarding Adults Board

Criminal Exploitation of vulnerable adults: County Lines & Cuckooing

What is cuckooing?

Criminal gangs target the homes of vulnerable people to be used for drug dealing – a process known as “cuckooing” after the “Cuckoo” bird that invades other bird’s nests. Victims are often left with little choice but to co-operate.

Drug dealers will often approach the vulnerable person offering money or free drugs to use their home for dealing. In some instances after providing free drugs, the dealers will then force the person to sell drugs for them in order to ‘re-pay’ their drug debts.

These criminals are selective about who they target, a lot of the time victims are lonely, isolated, frequently drug users themselves and can already be known to the police.

“Cuckooing” means the drug dealers can operate from a property rather than the street, which is out of sight from the police making it a very attractive option. They can then use the premises to deal drugs from, which is difficult for the police to monitor.  

What to do if you suspect a property is being ‘cuckooed’?

Call Metropolitan Police Service on 101 or 999 in an emergency to report drug-related information.

If you don’t want to speak to the police directly, you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Criminal Exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: Updated County Lines Guidance

The government has published refreshed County Lines Guidance. The guidance is primarily aimed at frontline staff who work with children, young people and potentially vulnerable adults.

If you’re a professional working in social care, education, health, housing, benefits, law enforcement (police) and related partner organisations this guidance is for you.

Criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults is a geographically widespread form of harm that is a typical feature of county lines activity. It is a harm which is relatively little known about or recognised by those best placed to spot its potential victims.

The guidance is intended to explain the nature of this harm to enable you, the professional, to recognise its signs and respond appropriately so that potential victims get the support and help they need.

Like other forms of abuse and exploitation, county lines exploitation:

  • Can affect any vulnerable adult over the age of 18 years;
  • Can still be exploitation even if the activity appears consensual;
  • Can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and is often accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
  • Can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and young people or adults; and
  • Is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the exploitation. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.

As so little is known about this type of abuse the national picture on county lines continues to develop but there are recorded cases of:

  • Both males and females being exploited;
  • White British children and young people being targeted because gangs perceive they are more likely to evade police detection but a person of any ethnicity or nationality may be exploited;
  • The use of social media to make initial contact with children and young people;
  • Class A drug users being targeted so that gangs can takeover their homes (known as ‘cuckooing’).

    What to do if you are a professional who is concerned

    Any practitioner working with a vulnerable person who they think may be at risk of county lines exploitation should follow their local safeguarding guidance and share this information with Lewisham Council’s social care services. If you believe a person is in immediate risk of harm, you should contact the police.


    Canterbury City and Kent County Council's and their partnership have produced multi-agency guidance on tackling Cuckooing which can be applied locally.

    Tackling Cuckooing Multi-Agency Guidance.

    Read the full Guidance for more detailed information on County Lines exploitation.

    Promotional and digital resources to support your work on addressing County Lines in Lewisham.

    For additional information on cuckooing, please see the 'Introduction to Cuckooing' presentation


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