Alarming figures reveal 10-fold increase in 'cuckooing' crimes in Sussex

  • Watch the full video report by ITV News Meridian's Toby Winson

People targeting the most vulnerable and using their homes for crime is on the rise across Sussex, according to figures released by Sussex Police.

The practice, called cuckooing, is an exploitative crime where gangs take over the homes of vulnerable people and use them as a base for criminal activity, most often involving drugs.

In 2018, Sussex Police were dealing with two cases a month, on average.

At the beginning of 2023, that number stood at 20.

Sussex police say they're determined to stop the growing trend known as 'cuckooing' Credit: ITV News Meridian

In response to the increase, Sussex Police say they are tackling the issue head on.

They've joined forces with local councils, mental health and drug and alcohol services to safeguard victims.

A large part of this involves carrying out regular welfare checks on those who are targeted by the gangs.

ITV News Meridian was recently invited out with Sussex Police to see this work in action.

  • PC  Debs Lanzon and Rich Hall, Sussex Police

Despite its links to exploitation, crime and drugs, cuckooing is not currently a specific offence.

Emily Drew, Exploitation Coordinator at Sussex Police said: "It's definitely hard to tackle cuckooing when it's not technically a crime.

"There are lots of other tools and powers we can utilise and we can be quite creative with it but it does rely on perpetrators committing other offences.

"However the act of cuckooing is in itself exploitative and therefore we have laws that cover exploitation that we can utiliise but until it becomes a crime, it's quite difficult to pursue in that manner."

Campaigners, such as Justice and Care and the Centre for Social Justice, say action is needed.

Spokeswoman Tatiana Gren-Jardan said: "We have called on the Government to make it a specific criminal offence and in fact the police came to us and said we need more tools to put criminals behind bars because at the moment they're running amok in our communities and just walking away with impunity, exploiting the vulnerable."

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Cuckooing is an abhorrent practice and there are a range of powers and tools available to law enforcement partners and local authorities to disrupt this activity, which can result in criminal sanctions if breached.

“We continue to work closely with police and wider partners to tackle cuckooing and since the County Lines Programme was launched in 2019, police activity has resulted in over 4,700 lines closed, 14,800 arrests, and 7,200 safeguarding referrals."