The staggering £7,000-a-week drug empire led by a 17-year-old gangster-turned-murderer

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There was no light or electricity in Leigh Smith’s ground floor apartment.

This grim existence had become a reality for the 48-year-old in his final days.

A sympathetic and much loved father, his life was sadly blighted by drug addiction.

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He was easy prey for a 17-year-old teenage gangster, who made staggering amounts of money, profiting from human misery.

Just as cuckoos take over the nests of other birds, drug dealers do the same thing with vulnerable people who are desperate.

Cuckooing, this evil and terrifying trend, enabled Jacob Cookson to earn £7,000 a week, selling crack and heroin on the streets of Salford.

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Rather than risk using their own homes, apartments like Leigh’s provided a safe haven for drugs to be packaged and prepared for the streets.

What begins with the sale of drugs to vulnerable people can often lead to their exploitation by organized criminals.

Cookson, who jointly ran this sophisticated organized crime gang, had defrauded as many as 20 houses across the city.

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Leigh Smith was just one part of Cookson’s drug empire.

But he paid the ultimate price after Cookson decided a challenge to his gangster image couldn’t go unpunished.

He would openly carry knives, including terrifying Rambo-style blades, to reinforce threats and intimidate people.

Even the death of a ‘close friend’, another knife crime victim, did not deter Cookson from carrying knives.

leigh smith
leigh smith

Just weeks earlier, Cookson was grieving, after 17-year-old Josiah Norman was deliberately hit by a car and then stabbed to death on the street in Salford.

Cookson declined to say whether Josiah had become involved in his shady drug world.

Josiah was killed in an apparent revenge attack, weeks after an alleged shooting at the family home by one of his killers.

Police discovered a ‘Rambo’ knife when Cookson was arrested and a hunting knife in his bedroom.

He was even accused of threatening a co-defendant, who was later acquitted of murder, with a makeshift blade during his trial.

Described as a brush handle that had been sharpened, he was allegedly kept in a holding cell before being brought to court.

“Look at this,” Cookson allegedly told the teen, before lifting up her blouse and showing him the gun, which was discovered in a bottle of Lynx shower gel at Wetherby Young Offenders’ Institution.

It was a final act of defiance as he faced the prospect of a life sentence. You must serve at least 19 years before you can be released.

“I think it’s a sad indictment of society today, particularly young people who habitually carry knives,” GMP DCI Ben Cottam said after the case.

“It’s a shocking example of how things can go tragically wrong when you’re carrying a knife.

“With Jacob it was more than that, he was using it as an integral part of his criminal enterprise, and at times he took it openly, and he used it to enforce intimidation tactics and help take advantage of vulnerable people.”

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Police investigating Leigh’s flat in Cook Street, Eccles

Cookson is believed to have become involved with the gang after he began using drugs.

“I think it’s all drug related, I think it stemmed from being a drug user on a very small level, and then that turned into what was clearly a very profitable business venture,” DCI Cottam added.

It was an attack on Cookson that was the catalyst for this brutal murder.

He ended up in the hospital, covered in blood, after being hit over the head with a radio by a man he had just sold crack cocaine to in Leigh’s apartment.

Cookson blamed Leigh’s door, believing he had been set up.

Five days later, Cookson, with the help of another member of his gang, 17-year-old Logan Eaton, went out for revenge.

Tragically, Leigh’s life seemed to be taking a positive turn.

The last time she saw her mother, Jackie Roycroft, she thought she was making good strides.

Leigh Smith’s mother Jackie Roycroft and sister Emma Roycroft outside court

He had moved into the Cook Street flat with the help of a housing officer, who described him as a “really lovely chap” who had lots of friends.

Although this was good news for Jackie, she was always afraid that there would be a knock on the door, fearing that the policemen would tell them that something had happened to her son.

“I can’t believe this has finally happened,” he said.

“I feel numb but it physically hurts inside.

“I feel guilty as if I could have done more to save him.”

She wakes up at night and has visions of her last moments.

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“I see the fear in their eyes knowing what was going to happen and not being able to stop it,” he said.

Leigh was stabbed seven times.

Logan Eaton

A wound severed a major artery in his leg, effectively rendering him immobile.

He couldn’t move to get help.

Meanwhile, Cookson and Eaton fled the scene, more interested in getting back into drug dealing.

His body was found the next morning.

Days earlier, Leigh had been severely beaten and had his teeth knocked out, an attack believed to have been carried out by other drug dealers.

Cookson and Eaton, who must serve a minimum of 17 years after being convicted of murder, can look forward to a possible release date in the future.

For Leigh Smith’s family, life will never be the same.

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Her little daughter will never see the ‘fun and loving’ person she was.

And his mother, who spent weeks in court listening to graphic details about her son’s final moments, will have to live with the brutal way her life was cut short.

“I was hoping that the end of this trial would bring me closure, but I know deep down these feelings will never go away,” he said.

“My life will never be the same.”

Senior police officers believe the true scale of how the cuckoo has permeated society is now beginning to emerge.

But sadly, the grim reality of Leigh Smith’s final days is likely to be similar for many other vulnerable people exploited by gangsters, motivated solely by profit.



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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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