Cuckooing and drug offences cause concern among Epping councillors

Concerns have been raised at a council meeting over cuckooing and drug dealing in Epping Forest after a group of young people took just two days to re-offend after being arrested.

Essex Police and Epping Forest District Council said in the meeting a group of young people were arrested earlier this year after being caught at a property owned by the authority in Waltham Abbey with drugs, but two days later they returned to another property in the same area.

In May, there was a further incident involving the same group at an address near Epping High Street.

Councillors were updated on the progress of Operation Synapse, the work by Essex Police targeting drug gangs in the area, at a Stronger Communities Select Committee meeting this week (September 21).

At the meeting, Councillor Janet Whitehouse (Lib Dem, Epping Hemnall) asked what sentences could be expected after the young people appeared in court.

She said: “I was struck though that you said that when you went to one of the properties you caught the youths there with the drugs and so forth and yet a couple of days later they were doing the same thing again, it seemed.”

Safer Communities manager Caroline Wiggins responded by saying young people are often coerced into offending.

She said: “I think what we have to be very careful with, and I know there’s a long process, but the young people can be victims as well as perpetrators and there’s a lot of work with Essex children’s social care and the missing and child exploitation group to make sure that these young people are not being exploited and forced to deal drugs.”

Sargent Neil Cross, who is on the council’s funded police team, added that sentencing was “a massive sliding scale” depending on the particulars of individual cases and “could be anything from a simple caution right through to imprisonment.”

Ms Wiggins also told the meeting the court backlog currently being experienced in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic is not only making it more difficult to prosecute offenders but is also slowing down the speed at which the police can receive closure orders.

Closure orders are used to close down premises used to produce or supply drugs and are issued by the magistrates court after an application by police.

Closure orders for the council owned properties discussed at the meeting were extended as recently as September 15.

Sgt Cross said Operation Synapse and Operation Raptor, a separate, county-wide operation, are proving to be successful because of cooperation between the police and council departments.

He told the meeting: “This is a really good example, and hopefully I’ve explained it well enough, that just really shows the power of the partnership working. 

“I think it’s a really good example of what the teams are capable of doing, the funded team and with bringing the council departments together as well, breaking down the barriers. 

“It just wouldn’t have happened if everyone had worked in silence like what has happened in the past.”

The young people discussed at the meeting are due in court, with two people still to be charged.

Funded police have also drafted criminal behaviour orders for three youths and one adult.

In a statement last month, Essex Police said Operation Raptor had led to 272 arrests between January-June 2021, with units seizing an average of £1,150 a day.

Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter