A SPIKE in callous criminals targeting vulnerable adults living alone in Barnsley in order to exploit them for financial gain has resulted in a new task force being set up to stop it, the Chronicle can reveal.

Fronted by South Yorkshire Police and chaired by Chief Superintendent Dan Thorpe, the panel also includes fire officers and health bosses and councils’ integrated care system staff - all of whom have ‘invaluable’ knowledge relating to what’s referred to as ‘mate crime’ or ‘cuckooing’.

The crime occurs when vulnerable people are targeted by being befriended, with a view to exploiting them for criminal activity.

Members now meet bi-monthly, according to a police report, which comes after social care bosses urged more proactive work to be done and said related crime was going under-reported across the borough.

The report said: “The alliance will provide the mechanism to share data. It also has the right representation to agree on steps to make things better based on joint evidence, whether that’s to better manage demand, respond to communities or manage threat, harm and risk.

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“In 2018, a recommendation was made that all forces should undertake a review of their mental health training provision and our update has been provided to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).”

Police have warned people to be vigilant in spotting signs of suspected mate crime after a number of recent incidents of vulnerable people being taken advantage of.

Those targeted may be deceived or threatened, or it may be such a gradual process that they do not know something is wrong until it is too late.

In some circumstances, mate crime can lead to ‘cuckooing’ - where the home of a victim is taken over, often for use as a base for criminal activity.

Barnsley Council has been successful in issuing a series of closure orders on properties in recent years - which bans people from entering a person’s home unless they have a valid reason - while police successfully prosecuted 49-year-old Karl Greenwood last month, who was jailed for seven-and-a-half years for a series of mate crime-related offences.

The report added: “Greenwood posed as a gardener to obtain access to the homes of vulnerable people to steal cash and bank cards, later used in local shops.

“We hope positive results of investigations such as these demonstrate our commitment to bringing such individuals to justice.”

One particular case, revealed at a recent scrutiny meeting held at Barnsley Town Hall, remains ongoing and involves two people with ‘severe learning difficulties’ who were allegedly exploited for financial gain.

Det Chf Insp Paul Murphy added: “Cuckooing is something we’re aware of and it’s generally always those who are perceived as vulnerable involved.

“Residents living nearby to vulnerable people are asked to look out for an increase in visitors, a rise in antisocial behaviour, signs of drug use and a lack of healthcare visitors to a property.

“Criminals will befriend someone and it’s sad that often the victim’s mental capacity is deemed acceptable.

“That in itself puts a limit on the social care aspect as the person is assessed as being in control of their decisions, but sadly it’s not the case. We have safeguarding plans in place for this.”