“It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever been through in my life”
A woman whose flat was taken over by County Lines drug dealers has described the fear and intimidation she experienced before police intervened.
Clare – not her real name – is a mum with grown-up children but has suffered from addiction and mental health issues.
As a result of Clare’s ex-partner’s drug use, a gang from outside of the county occupied her flat and used it as base to deal drugs from.
The gang took Clare’s car and she became a prisoner in her own home, scared for her own safety and too frightened to call the police.
She said: “The cuckooing started because my ex-partner had a drug problem. He brought the gang to the doorstep and one of them asked if he could stay the night.
“One became three, three became six and then, all of sudden, my whole flat was taken over. There were nine of them.
“I literally locked myself in my bedroom and put my chest of drawers against my door. I let them carry on.
“I didn’t even want to go into my front room, or into my kitchen to make a cup of tea. I didn’t want to move.
“They took the whole property over and were running from a drug house, that’s what they call it. There were people coming all hours of the day and at weekends they’d be up all night. There was nothing I could do.”
When Clare did leave her bedroom, she was threatened.
“They were only 19 or 20, they might even have been younger. It’s just now fair how easy it is for them to intimidate you, and it’s coming from a young boy, younger than your own children. “The intimidation, my god, is phenomenal. It’s absolutely disgusting the way they do it. “I wouldn’t say each one was carrying a knife, but I saw knives – that’s how scary things were. They were ready to stab someone, and if they’d have wanted to, they would have done. “I could have been stabbed - it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever been through in my life.”
The gang had been in the flat for more than a month when a series of events brought Clare’s situation to the attention of the police.
She explains: “One day I came out of my room and one of (the gang) had a picture of my daughter hanging out of his pocket. It was the school picture on the keyring for my front door keys and my car.
“I chased him down the stairs, out onto pavement and ripped them out of his pocket. He smacked me on the head and I fell to the floor. The lump on my head was massive but I was scared to phone the police.
“I said to them, ‘Take the car,’ and they took it. But that night they were chased by the police and I had to get the car out of the compound. I told my mum what was happening, and she told me to phone the police and get it sorted out. That’s how I got rid of them.
“I was taken out of here straight away and stayed somewhere else for a few weeks. I had my name changed, everything.”
Members of the gang were arrested and received prison sentences.
Clare has now moved back into her flat, although she is trying to leave the area. She said the effects of the cuckooing remain with her.
“The situation still makes me emotional now. It’s mucked up my head, it’s mucked up my life. I still have flashbacks and I don’t have the confidence to go out. I’m on medication and just have the television on all day. “I’d like to go out on my bike and sit in the park, but I think about what might happen if I bump into one of them. “I can’t say enough for what Jim (DCI Jim White from the Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit) has done for me. I’m still in the same flat but I’ve got the boxes packed. I don’t want to stay here.”
The Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit have recently launched Operation Trespass. This will see 50,000 leaflets and posters go out to community partners, police stations and to victims of cuckooing and their neighbours. The material will describe the signs of cuckooing and tell people who to go to for help.
For more information on cuckooing and other tactics used by County Lines drugs gangs please click here.
If you’re concerned about drug-related crime in your area or think someone may be a victim of drug exploitation, please call us on 101. If it's an emergency, please call 999. If you're deaf or hard of hearing, use our textphone service 18000.