Salford's dedicated team to safeguarding the city's vulnerable adults and children have today launched their multi-agency response to 'cuckooing' that has already supported a dozen people.
'Salford Connect' is the partnership dedicated to protecting those at risk of criminal exploitation as agencies from the police, Salford City Council, and the National Health Service collaborates with the common aim of keeping vulnerable people safe.
The taskforce have already safeguarded 12 vulnerable adults who are suspected of being exploited in the form of 'cuckooing' - which usually sees a property taken over by criminals to store or take illegal drugs.
Operation Firestop began following the tragic murder of Leigh Smith, 48, in Eccles in June 2021 who was killed by two teenagers following a prolonged period of having his home taken over by drug dealers who preyed on his vulnerabilities.
A murder investigation into Leigh's death by our Major Incident Team concluded on Friday 28 January with Jacob Cookson, 18, and Logan Eaton, 17, both being found guilty of murder and will serve at least 19 and 17 years respectively.
During the murder trial, the court heard details of some of the common signs that victims of cuckooing are often subjected to; including threats, violence and abuse.
Agencies from law enforcement, housing providers, and children and adult services in the city came together to identify other potential victims of 'cuckooing' after Leigh's tragic murder brought the issue to the surface and increased the need for awareness in spotting the signs of such exploitation.
Mechanisms have been introduced to process and share information gathered between agencies to ensure that the appropriate action is taken.
To date, Op Firestop has safeguarded 12 victims and allowed them to start life afresh outside of the city after speaking out about their fear and anxieties about the conditions they were subjected to by offenders who would coerce them into allowing them in their homes before they would gradually take it over.
We're appealing for victims of cuckooing and neighbours of vulnerable adults who may be being exploited to be aware of spotting the signs and know to come forward to local agencies knowing information will be treated with the strictest confidence.
Detective Superintendent Chris Packer, Salford's lead for safeguarding and vulnerability, said: "Salford Connect is a really important multi-agency response to the issues of criminal exploitation in the city as we are working with a range of different partners to understand how to identify the signs of this type of criminality and how we can best support vulnerable people who may be victims of it.
"The tragic death of Leigh Smith really brought to the surface how brutal and, ultimately, fatal cuckooing can be and through Operation Firestop we have already been able to identify 12 people who were being preyed upon due to their vulnerabilities that we have now successfully safeguarded and been given the chance to turn their lives around elsewhere outside of Salford.
"When it's happening, it may appear to neighbours to sound like a disturbance or nuisance in the community; but, actually, when groups of people are routinely gathered in stairwells or causing unwanted noise in a block of flats, it's possible that what is actually going on is cuckooing and that a vulnerable person's property is being targeted by drug dealers and criminal exploiters.
"This causes those targeted to feel intimidated, uncomfortable and scared, and we know that they may find it difficult to come forward as victims are often drug users exploited by dealers; however, those that are preyed upon should know we understand how awful this crime is, we understand their vulnerabilities, and we understand they are victims - we will support you."
Councillor David Lancaster, lead member for environment, neighbourhoods and community safety at Salford City Council said: “We urge people to come forward and report their concerns so they can be investigated. Help is available and we must stamp out this dreadful practice and keep people safe.”
Anyone with information or concerns should contact police online - if able - via www.gmp.police.uk or call 101. Always call 999 in an emergency.
Details can be passed anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.