A new team in Salford today launched their operation to tackle ‘cuckooing’ in the city following the murder of Leigh Smith.
Cuckooing is a practice whereby criminal gangs take over the home of a vulnerable person to sell or store drugs.
Leigh Smith was one such victim of the ‘brutal’ practice after he was stabbed to death in Eccles in June 2021.
READ MORE: The staggering £7,000-a-week drug empire led by a 17-year-old gangster-turned-murderer
His teenage killers, Jacob Cookson, 18, and Logan Eaton, 17, were sentenced yesterday.
Cookson will serve at least 19 years behind bars, and Eaton will face a minimum 17-year term.
Now, after the 48-year-old father’s murder, Salford Connect is tackling the bogeyman issue: police asking potential victims and their neighbors for information to find more people in need.
The team is a partnership dedicated to protecting people at risk of criminal exploitation with agencies from the police, Salford City Council and the NHS.
Already 12 people have been supported under the banner of Operation Firestop.
It has allowed them to start a new life outside the city after speaking out about their fears and anxieties about the conditions they were subjected to.
Criminals typically coerced their victims into allowing them into their homes before gradually taking over.
Cuckoo victims are also often subjected to violence, intimidation, and abuse.
Detective Superintendent Chris Packer, Salford’s Safeguarding and Vulnerability Lead, said: “Salford Connect is a really important multi-agency response to the problems of criminal exploitation in the city as we’re working with a range of different partners to understand how to identify the signs of this type of crime and how we can better support vulnerable people who may be victims of it.
“The tragic death of Leigh Smith really brought to light just how brutal and ultimately fatal cuckooing can be and through Operation Firestop we have already been able to identify 12 people who were being harassed due to their vulnerabilities which we have now successfully safeguarded and given the opportunity to change their lives elsewhere outside of Salford.
“When it happens, it may seem to neighbors as a disturbance or a nuisance in the community, but in reality, when groups of people routinely gather on the stairs or cause unwanted noise in a block of flats, it may be that what in reality whatever is going on is crazy and that a vulnerable person’s property is being targeted by drug dealers and criminal exploiters.
“This makes victims feel intimidated, uncomfortable and scared, and we know it can be difficult for them to come forward as victims are often drug users exploited by traffickers, however victims should know that we understand how terrible it is. this crime”. that is, we understand their vulnerabilities and we understand that they are victims: we will support them.”
Anyone with information or concerns should contact the police online, if they can, 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.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.