Dozens of drug gang cuckooing victims identified in north east Scotland

By Rachel Bell
BBC Scotland reporter

Image caption,
Police raids were carried out in Fraserburgh this week

An initiative aimed at protecting vulnerable people from being exploited by drug gangs has identified dozens of victims in the north east of Scotland.

Police launched a crackdown on dealers who were using a method known as "cuckooing" to target individuals in Fraserburgh and Peterhead last year.

Cuckooing is the term used where dealers commandeer homes of people in exchange for drugs.

One such couple have spoken of the ordeal and why they had to move away.

A year on from the launch, 47 local people have been identified as being victims of cuckooing, and about 30 are now accessing the available support services.

Police Scotland carried out fresh raids in Fraserburgh this week, as part of Operation Corner.

Several people were arrested, and hundreds of pounds worth of drugs including heroin and cocaine was seized.

One young couple - who cannot be identified - have had to move away to evade the dealers.

Always looking over shoulder

The young woman, who was using heroin and crack cocaine, said: ''It got to the point that I had to take it because my body was hurting every day.

"It was just horrible.

"These dealers started threatening us, and then it got to the point that we had to dodge all the time and hide, and always look over our shoulders. It was scary. I just want to rest, and have a nice life, and be a normal teenager."

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The man said: "Eventually we started dealing for people to feed our habit."

The couple sought help. Desperate for a fresh start, they no longer use heroin.

Vanessa Case, a local substance misuse co-ordinator, said efforts were being made to support the "victims of exploitation".

Image caption,
Substance misuse co-ordinator Vanessa Case said there were victims on both sides

She said: "We are finding increasingly over this last year-and-a-half - we're at the anniversary really now of the original operation that picked up a lot of the folk who were invading the area almost - unfortunately that hasn't stopped. We've more and more people arriving.

"We have victims on both side, some of the people arriving have been victims too - very young people being sent up to the area with a burner phone with one number on it, and find themselves abandoned."

Threaten family members

She added: "Increasingly, vulnerable older people are being targeted, and single mums with children. Folk groom them.

"They will threaten your family members, we've had children threatened, we've had mums and dads threatened in order to pay off debts. There have been family pets who've been killed.

"Once you've engaged with them, it's not in their interest to ever let you go. They need you to be intimidated. That's what we're here for, obviously to counter and to just say they don't rule the area. We can help and we can support you getting out of it."

One year on from the launch of Operation Corner, police say the majority of those involved are still getting help from support services.

Det Ch Insp Fionnuala McPhail said: "What we can say is that as long as we've got 64% engaging with us and getting the support they need.

"We're working towards making it a difficult environment for these crime groups to operate in. We're looking in the long-term to reduce drug deaths and drug related issues across the community."

Police said it is crucial that communities continue to work with officers to tackle the problem, and report concerns and suspicions.

Signs to look out for include a marked unexplained increased number of vehicles outside a property.

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