Understanding and preventing ‘cuckoo’ victimisation

Project Summary

‘Cuckooing’ is named after the parasitic nest-stealing practices of wild cuckoos.

It is a situation where heroin and crack cocaine dealers associated with the so-called County Lines supply methodology ‘take over’ (acquire) the homes of local residents to create a ‘closed market’ drug dealing base.

Cuckooing is an inherently exploitative and predatory practice.

Existing evidence indicates that victims are typically vulnerable and,in some instances, socially excluded.

Some victims may receive ‘benefits’ for their cooperation (e.g. drugs), yet are likely to be subjected to serious threats, physical and psychological violence, coercion and intimidation.

Cuckooing undoubtedly presents a ‘wicked’ problem for operational policing.

Yet, while political and professional concern about the proliferation of ‘cuckooing’ has increased in recent years in the UK, academic research dedicated to exploring, understanding and scrutinising this evolving phenomenon remains in its infancy.

In seeking to plug gaps in knowledge, the three overarching aims of the study are to:

  • Investigate the mechanics of ‘cuckoo’ targeting (including risk factors, e.g. ACEs)
  • Gain an insight into the lived experience of ‘cuckoo’ victims and perpetrators
  • Identify potential preventative measures for practical application.

The data collection phase of the study will commence with a comprehensive search for academic, grey, journalistic and practice-based literature that discusses ‘cuckooing’.

Subsequent fieldwork will involve interviewing experts, victims and perpetrators, with the primary output of the study being a ‘preventing cuckooing’ tactical plan for local delivery groups.

Understanding and Preventing Cuckooing Victimisation Symposium

3 May 2023 - School of Law, University of Leeds

Bringing together academics, police professionals, criminal justice practitioners and voluntary sector representatives, this one-day symposium explored the latest thinking and research evidence around 'cuckooing' victimisation.

A core objective of the symposium was to share knowledge and experience of how ‘cuckooing’ can be prevented, both in relation to target-hardening potential victims and identifying ‘cuckooing’ perpetrators.

Read the symposium programme

Dr Laura Bainbridge – Welcome

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Dr Jack Spicer - An Introduction to Cuckooing: Some Thoughts on Understandings and Responses

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Professor Simon Harding - Competition, Exploitation and Cuckooing in County Lines

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Dr Rosemary Broad – Communities of Practice in Multi-Agency Responses to Cuckooing

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Detective Superintendent Fiona Gaffney – Cuckooing: The Police Response

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