Criminals are targeting some of Leeds’s most vulnerable residents, taking over their homes for prostitution and drug dealing, the YEP can reveal.
The frightening phenomenon – called ‘cuckooing’ – involves vulnerable people, such as those with learning disabilities, being singled out and befriended.
Their homes are then used for criminal activities and in some cases dealers even move in, turning properties into drugs dens while the terrified victims still live there.
Support groups say many are suffering in silence and not reporting their ordeals.
Disability campaigner David Cuthbert, chairman of the Access Committee for Leeds, told the YEP that they had helped one disabled couple in their 50s from Pudsey.
He said: “We had a harrowing case involving the ‘cuckooing’ of a disabled brother and sister with learning disabilities and mental health needs.
“Within days of moving in to their home, a gang of drug dealers deliberately targeted them and began a campaign of offering a choice of ‘friendship or abuse’ along with 24/7 harassment.
“Over four months, the gang had gained total access to their home, holding drinks and drugs parties, intercepting mail and stealing cash and property. Their lives became a living nightmare.”
PC Sean McDonald, hate crime coordinator for North East Leeds Police, said: “Criminals often single out vulnerable people and the expression refers to the cuckoo bird who uses a nest it has not created as their own, much like the criminals using someone else’s home.
“With any hate crime we would encourage people to come forward and report it.”
Mr Cuthbert said the terrorised couple had since sold their home and moved away and were now recognised as ‘vulnerable adults’ enabling support agencies to provide specific extra support.
He added the local Neighbourhood Policing Team (NPT) did an outstanding job in understanding specific vulnerabilities and in pulling together other key agencies, which resulted in a happy ending.
Jude Woods, of Living Our Lives In Safety, run by Leeds-based Change, said: “We use the word ‘mate crime’ or ‘tricky friends’ because it is clear what it means to people with learning disabilities. This is when a bully pretends to be your friend when they really have a plan to take advantage by stealing from you, using your home for parties or for illegal activities like dealing drugs, storing stolen goods or prostitution, and abusing you physically, sexually and emotionally.
“This is happening here in Leeds as it is in all parts of Britain. Police are now doing work with people who have learning disabilities as they can see that they are being exploited.”
Contact police on Crimestoppers 0800 555 111, call at any police station or call 101 and say you are reporting hate crime.