“Nursing” in the homes of vulnerable people by drug gangs should become a criminal offense, according to a call from the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) thinktank, which has garnered cross-party support.
Labor MP Jess Phillips and former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith are leading calls for the practice – which was highlighted in the BBC’s Happy Valley series – to be criminalized as part of an overhaul of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.
Cuckooing is where criminals take over someone’s home and use it for their own purposes, often to store drugs or weapons, the CSJ said. Victims are often targeted because they are vulnerable due to addiction, age or disability, and offenders can be violent and threatening.
During a March 2022 police crackdown against “county” gangs that distribute drugs from city centers to bases in smaller cities and towns, they visited 799 different addresses. A CSJ survey found that one in eight people saw cuckoo signs in their communities.
North Wales Police told the thinktank that of the 54 cuckoo victims they identified between March 2021 and April 2022, 44 had problems with substance misuse, 10 were disabled or learning disabled and 39 were unemployed.
“We must stop this exploitation of vulnerable people, threatened and manipulated by drug gangs who take over their homes,” said Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley. “We can no longer let them suffer behind closed doors at the risk of being prosecuted.”
Duncan Smith, the MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, said: “It cannot be right that the invasion of someone’s home by gangs for criminal purposes is outside the scope of the Modern Slavery Act. This is not a drug or property crime, this is a crime that devastates vulnerable people in the very place that should be their sanctuary.”
The proposal to criminalize the cuckoo is part of calls to update the law on modern slavery. CSJ said nearly four times as many victims of modern slavery were formally identified and referred for support in 2021 compared to the year the laws were introduced.
One rescued cuckoo victim told CSJ: “It was my mother’s grief; I was taken advantage of. They were feeding me drugs for free. Because I was so lost with what they were giving me that I didn’t even see the change until it was too late when people started moving and then when prostitution started.”
Another survivor said: “It’s scary, your house is taken over, you don’t know who is knocking on your door. People come to your door every two minutes looking for them. They are threatening people in their house, threatening me in my house. It totally takes over your life.”
The Crown Prosecution Service says the cuckoo may be outside the scope of the Modern Slavery Act if the victim does nothing more than agree to the provision of drugs in his home. But if they are forced to work, threatened or attacked, charges can be brought under existing laws.
The government announced in May 2022 that it plans a new Modern Slavery Bill to “strengthen protection and support for victims of human trafficking and modern slavery and increase the accountability of businesses and other organizations to eliminate modern slavery from their supply chains”. However, it did not mention tackling the cuckoo.
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “The cuckoo is totally unacceptable and the government is determined to tackle it and those who commit this abuse. There are a variety of tools that can be applied to stop this behavior, which can result in criminal penalties if violated.”
He said the police closed more than 2,900 lines, made more than 8,000 arrests and involved more than 9,500 people through security interventions.