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28 October 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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   Coming Up : Inside Out - London: Friday March 23, 2007
Drug needles
"I ended up with seven dealers living in my house. There was prostitution, robbery, mugging, murder…" Clarence Spencer
Evidence of crack abuse

Crack houses

We look at how drug dealers are taking over the flats of vulnerable people in London and turning them into crack houses.

In 2004 the government brought in new legislation to allow the police to shut down crack houses permanently after they were raided.

The success of this policy has pushed drug dealers to look for alternative venues to conduct their business.

As the police clamp down more effectively and close drug dens across the capital,the crack dealers are having to feather new nests targeting the homes of the helpless to ply their trade.

In some parts of London this has resulted in dealers talking their way into the homes of vulnerable people and turning them into crack houses.


Cuckooing is a new type of crime which involves a drug dealer befriending a vulnerable individual who lives on their own.

Like a cuckoo, the dealer moves in, takes over the property, and turns it into a drugs' den.

Homeless charity ThamesReach has noticed an upsurge in ‘cuckooing’ amongst vulnerable people they have rehoused.

Crack pipe
A crack pipe - part of the drug users' equipment

One of the drug dealers' victims was Martin.

After spending most of his adult life wandering the streets of London, he was finally found a home by Thames Reach.

Independent living was a major step forward, but with a history of alcoholism it didn't take long for the local crack dealers to befriend him and take advantage of his vulnerability.

Martin explains what happened:

"I've never had a flat of my own before. And I was given this flat by the people who did it and I was so proud and keen to make the most of it.

"One day I was walking down the road to get some tea bags or something and I was approached by a woman and she looked very respectable.

"And she asked if it's alright if me and my husband move in - I thought about it and she looked quite decent and I said, 'okay - just for a week'."

Martin was an easy target - the couple he trusted turned out to be drug dealers and very quickly they took over his one bedroom flat.

The people who had invaded his flat terrorised him - threatening him with violence, and Martin was left helpless:

"I confronted the dealer… I asked them to leave. They went ballistic, threatening me with violence.

"There were too many of them. I can fight but I can't fight 13 people."

Cuckoo's nest

Fifty-five-year-old Clarence Spencer had a similar cuckooing experience.

Cocaine explosion - the white powder

He had always had a regular job and a home.

The backbone of his life was his sister, but when she left the country to go back to Jamaica, his life fell apart.

And he started using crack cocaine.

Dealers quickly moved into his home and to make sure they stayed there, they fed his addiction, as Clarence explains:

"I ended up with seven dealers living in my house. There was prostitution, robbery, mugging, murder… all kinds of things were happening for them to get their money.

"And I ended up with a £1,000 a day crack habit."

For Clarence, like many other victims of cuckooing, going to the police was not an option.

His flat was raided, he lost his home and was made subject to an ASBO.

He's spent the last six months in a homeless person's shelter.

Now completely clean of drugs, Clarence is starting to re-build his life.

After six months living in the hostel, he's moving out into a shared flat, and feels much more positive about himself.

Homeless charity

Crack house sign
Crack House sign - but how do the dealers get driven out?

Outreach workers at ThamesReach are increasingly having to move tenants as their homes are invaded by violent dealers, users and prostitutes, sometimes resulting in the vulnerable person returning to using drugs.

Terri, an outreach worker for ThamesReach, explains how the dealers target the vulnerable:

"It's people who are isolated. People who have had problems with vulnerability…

" Maybe they're having some sort of an addiction with drugs already. Maybe it's alcohol or maybe they have some mental health issues where they need some support.

"And if someone shows them some attention, that's a way in."

As the drug dealers move into new homes, the charity is concerned that this is having a severe impact on the wider community, as Terri explains:

"You'll have increased crime in the area, people will feel unsafe… you and I will feel unsafe to walking along the street."

Dealers often approach the vulnerable person with an offer of free drugs for the use of their home - at first this seems attractive but as more and more users and dealers arrive, the situation spirals out of control.

At this stage the homes become known to the police – who, working in partnership with the local authority and ThamesReach - raid the premises.

Instead of arresting the tenant they arrange for them to be rehoused, treating them as a victim rather than a criminal.

Protecting the vulnerable

Today, victims of cuckooing are no longer seen as criminals.

Typical crack house
Cuckoo's nest - a typical crack house with drug paraphernalia

ThamesReach works closely with the police and local councils to rescue and protect them from the drugs dealers.

The first thing is to get the tenant to acknowledge that there's a problem.

But even if you can drive out the dealers, there's still the fear that they'll move on to a new property and find another vulnerable person.

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Crack - fact file

Coca leaves c/o AP Images
Coca leaves in South America.
Photo - AP Images

Cocaine was first extracted from coca leaves in 1855.

In the late 19th Century cocaine was used as a stimulant as well as in a range of medicines for various ailments.

Coca leaf chewing has its roots in the South American Indians as far back as 2500BC.

Here's a brief overview of modern crack use:

Crack is a smokeable form of cocaine which is made into small lumps or 'rocks'.

The name 'crack' comes from the cracking sound it makes when burnt.

Crack is generally smoked in a pipe or from a glass tube, plastic bottle or foil.

Crack can also be prepared for injection.

Freebasing is the manufacturing process in which cocaine hydrochloride powder is dissolved in water and heated with a chemical agent to 'free' the cocaine alkaloid 'base' from the salt.

Crack is a Class A drug.

Crack provides an intense high and is associated with a euphoric sense of happiness and increased energy.

However, it is highly addictive and can result in paranoia and aggression.

Cocaine powder costs approximately £40 and £80 per gram.

Crack use is still relatively uncommon - statistics from the British Crime Survey (2004/05) reveal that only 0.1% of 16-59 year olds reported having used it.

The number of seizures for crack for the UK increased from 1,321 to 2,507 in 1999 and 4,260 in 2002.

Seizures of crack and arrests are greatest in London, comprising 60 per cent of the UK's seizure figures.

Sources: Drugscope and Wikipedia

Oriental City

Oriental City
The Oriental City - known as the "Real Chinatown"

Oriental City in Colindale is much more than just a collection of shops.

It is known to locals as the "Real Chinatown", and people from China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, India and Malaysia all have businesses there.

Unique in Europe it was on Time Out’s list of top 100 attractions in London, where 10,000 visitors a week go to soak up the atmosphere and sample the exotic cuisine.

Oriental City is due to be flattened and replaced with a new centre - featuring a DIY store, 500 flats, a school and a new community centre.

But it is going to take at least two years to build, which the tenants say they can’t afford.

They say they need help with relocation as they can't afford to close for two years.

They’ve formed a group to defend themselves called Oriental City Tenant’s Association.

Inside Out has been following the community as they find their voice and learn to make it heard.


The Thames in history

River Thames
The grand old River Thames - captured on archive film

We look at the history of the Thames on archive film.

The British Film Institute is making thousands of hours of the UK’s national film and television archive available for free at its brand-new Mediatheque centre on London's South Bank.

One constant presence in the footage is the River Thames. As the films reveal though, our relationship to our great river has changed dramatically over the years.

Lightermen like Bob Cadman, who worked on the Thames in the 1950s, witnessed a period when the wharves and docks that lined the river were chockablock with ships loading and unloading at anchor.

Eastender Martha Snooks remembers taking trips on the river as a treat when she was young and admiring the well dressed young women to be seen on those pleasure cruises.

Historian Chris Roberts has noticed the important changes over the years, with the popularity of the Thames rising throughout the 1970s and 80s as people started to live on its banks and new developments like Tate Modern sprang up.

Lucinda Lambton takes a journey of discovery.

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