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Cuckooing Of Addresses Used By Drug Dealers Or Other Criminals, An Explainer


Cuckooing’ is defined as a practice by which people take over an individual’s home for the operation of illegal activity. The most common form of cuckooing is where criminal gangs take over or use the property to facilitate drug related activities, including storing, preparing or distributing drugs. This is often as part of ‘county lines’ networks. This is a term used to describe criminal groups involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more areas within the UK, usually from cities into smaller towns and rural areas1. These gangs generally have access to several ‘cuckooed’ properties, which they can easily move between to avoid obvious detection.

The National Crime Agency have estimated that approximately 2,000 ‘county lines’ networks are in operation in the UK.


Recorded instances of cuckooing have increased a significant amount over the last few years. In 2022, there were 316 recorded instances of cuckooing in London, in comparison to 79 recorded instances in 20182. In addition, Sussex have seen a 10-fold rise in this type of offence over the last 5 years3. It is thought that numbers may have increased due to a rise media coverage, bringing the crime to the attention of the wider public.


Perpetrators of cuckooing typically target and exploit vulnerable people, although it is important to remember that anyone can be a victim of this. County network gangs often use manipulative tactics to gain control over their victim’s property, and victims are stripped of their liberties and freedoms in their own homes. Victims are often subject to threats, violence, and even Modern Slavery. Some of the tactics used by perpetrators can be subtle, and the victim may not always realise they are being cuckooed. In other cases, the victim may be too scared to speak up and ask for help. People dealing with substance misuse or alcoholism may be at risk. Victims may also be targeted because of a mental health condition and/or circumstances may include a person being blackmailed.

What can we do?

Although there is currently no specific offence of ‘cuckooing’, help is still available. Anyone who may be a victim of cuckooing or concerned they know someone in this situation should be encouraged to seek legal advice. In addition a multi-agency approach may be vital to safeguard victims and disrupt perpetrators’ criminal activities. This is likely to include raising any concerns with the police, social workers, or care providers.

Victims of cuckooing can often be pressurised and coerced into criminality. It is important to seek legal advice if you are concerned about potential cuckooing. A legal representative can ensure these factors are considered during police investigations or by the courts in criminal proceedings.

If you are under police investigation or have been prosecuted where you think that ‘cuckooing’ may be relevant, please contact our criminal defence expert on 0330 822 3451 or request a callback online.

1County Lines, Metropolitan Police, 2022.
2Cuckooing crimes on rise across London, BBC News, 2023.
3The World Tonight – Is American diplomacy making a difference in the Middle East?, BBC Sounds, 2024.

Further Reading General Crime