By Nadeem Badshah
Vulnerable people who have their homes taken over by drug gangs who befriend them need more help from communities, former police officers and campaigners have urged.
British Asians with disabilities are among those being exploited by criminals who use the victim’s property to stash weapons and illegal substances in a practice known as cuckooing.
Senior officers have warned it is a “vast problem” across the country with thousands of people, some of whom have addiction issues, falling victim to crooks and being attacked and threatened.
Police forces across the UK have launched campaigns to raise awareness about the problem.
Tarique Ghaffur, former assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, urged the Asian community to re-port people they suspect are taking advantage of victims.
He told Eastern Eye: “This new phenomena preys on the vulnerable. Criminals gangs exploiting them have potential for communities becoming ghettoised and turning into hotspots for extreme violence and turf wars between rival gangs.
“In the absence of visible policing within the heart of communities, it is crucial that communities do not allow criminal role models to ‘contaminate’ and create a potentially dangerous situation.
“Law abiding members of the community need to work hand in hand with police and local agencies to root out this emerging problem.”
Cuckooing has risen with the growth of county lines drug trading where urban gangs move class A gear and cash between inner-city hubs and provincial areas.
Urban dealers target homes of vulnerable individuals in small, rural and coastal towns where they can make and sell illegal sub-stances. They befriend the person whose home it is and then take over the property.
Wiltshire police said it was aware of at least 70 people at risk of being cuckooed. In North Yorkshire, 75 householders are either victims of cuckooing or are vulnerable to it.
Gurpal Virdi, a former senior Met officer, said mi-grants from south Asia are also being exploited by criminal gangs.
He told Eastern Eye: “People smugglers have used other people’s ad-dresses to hide illegal mi-grants until they get work or are placed at some other cramped accommodation.
“Our places of worship have been used to hide those who are on the run or here illegally. Asian women have been left at various locations and they can be abused.
“More recently, proper-ties owned by Asians are being used to grow cannabis and are also forced to allow the premises to be used for prostitution.
“The other practice used in the Asian community was for an empty house to be rented and used as storage for illegal items. Renting warehouses for keeping illegal alcohol, tobacco and counterfeit goods.”
Mandy Sanghera, a rights activist, said she has sup-ported vulnerable individuals being exploited financially, a practice also known as Mate Crime.
She said: “We need to take Mate Crime serious. Most friends really are friends – but sometimes people might pretend to be your friend.
“People who commit Mate Crimes might be nice to your face. These people are often not rude, violent or aggressive, nor do they steal your things.
“Mate Crime does not start with bullying, but it can become bullying. It often happens in private and is not seen by others. We need to treat this as a hate crime.”
Commander Simon Bray, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on drugs, said: “Cuckooing persists as a problem, it is a big problem.
“There has been investment in coordinating a national hub to bring in information from all forces to gather information.”