Last night I was the last minute understudy for local Fulham MP and former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Greg Hands, to chair the local policing public meeting that he had convened at Fulham Broadway Methodist Church. The meeting was expertly opened and closed by Cllr Andrew Brown, the Conservative Opposition Group Leader on H&F Council.
This provided for Fulham residents with the opportunity to meet and question senior police officers from the Met responsible for neighbourhood policing in H&F. Both Simon Brooker, the new Chief Inspector for Neighbourhoods and Royal Parks, Central West BCU and John Childs, Inspector SNT H&F, answered questions for around 90 minutes after Inspector Childs had given a short presentation on crime trends in the 6 Fulham wards.
The public meeting was certainly timely. London’s knife crime epidemic has now hit H&F with two fatal stabbings this month alone: On 7th March Ayub Hassan, a 17-year-old boy from Shepherds Bush was stabbed to death near the Waitrose by West Kensington tube station and a 15-year-old boy has been charged with the murder. Then on 16th March Nathaniel Armstrong was a 29-year-old man who was stabbed to death just 100m from his Fulham home at the junction of Gowan Avenue and Munster Road. Chief Inspector Brooker informed the meeting that both these murders were drug related.
Knife crime levels are dramatically higher in all six Fulham wards and robbery is up significantly in 4 of the 6 wards. Here are the year on year increases presented by Inspector Childs:
Ward Knife Crime Robbery
Fulham Broadway +58% +41%
Munster +1900% +25%
Town +180% -3%
Parsons Green & Walham +67% +35%
Sands End +60% -26%
Palace Riverside +317% +128%
Inspector Childs admitted that these percentages do exaggerate the levels of knife crime in SW6. For instance, the 1900 per cent increase in Munster is a rise from 1 to 20 knife crime offences. However many of the residents felt less safe enjoying the parks and some felt trapped in their homes as result. The police also reported that children going to school had become the target for knifepoint muggings in recent weeks. Residents called for more Bobbies on the beat to tackle this rising tide of violence in Fulham.
It is interesting to note that the police use of stop and search powers is far lower in Hammersmith & Fulham than in Kensington & Chelsea (1000 fewer) once you remove the 2900 carried out in the month of August for the Notting Hill Carnival.
There is also a 3% increase in burglaries in H&F vs a 4% reduction in burglaries in K&C. Inspector Childs also presented a slide that measured environmental, nuisance and personal anti-social behaviour using data from the council. During the discussion a local Fulham businessman reported that their business had suffered £2000 worth of criminal damage and they had captured the perpetrators red handed on CCTV. However, after several months he was told by the Met that this was no longer a priority crime and would not be investigated further. Under Mayor Johnson criminal damage offences were seen as a marker for anti-social behaviour and were one of the so-called MOPAC 7 priority neighbourhood crimes. This crime would have been investigated under the previous Mayor.
Chief Inspector Brooker reported that sexual offences were up +46% in the borough compared to a London average rise of 20%. This was the highest increase in London and most of these offences occurred behind closed doors as opposed to stranger offences which were down 20%.
Naturally a few tried to raise the drop in police numbers as a reason for the rise in crime. The police admitted that they were now recruiting very actively after the announcement by the Home Secretary of an additional £970 million for policing but apparently it has become very hard to recruit enough officers to the Met.
One member of the audience tried to suggest that the closure of Fulham Police Station was the main reason for the knife crime epidemic spreading to Fulham. This was roundly rejected by both officers. They preferred to deploy more neighbourhood police officers than holding onto old and underutilised police buildings. Fulham Police Station was only 35% utilised and cost £400,000 a year to run. Now it is the site of the new Fulham Boys School. Surprisingly Inspector Childs confirmed that the new Fulham police station front counter, that had been promised under the previous Mayor, would now not be opened following the decision of Mayor Khan to close 38 police front counters.
With the £60 million redevelopment of Hammersmith Police Station still underway nearly three years after I approved this major investment as Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, this means that only Shepherd’s Bush Police Station is open to the public. This is just not good enough and Fulham residents should have the front counter that they were promised.
Finally a series of the Fulham policing ward panel chairs spoke strongly in support of the local police and called for the public to get more engaged in helping the police to fight crime. Unfortunately the H&F Labour Council are unilaterally abolishing these policing-specific panels to create more diluted ones that cover all areas of council responsibility.
I am not trying to make any political point. But the reality is that police numbers in London have been allow to fall to an unacceptable level. We need more police officers 34,000 in London and we need fully staffed and resourced Safer Neighbourhood Teams. I really don`t care who is to blame, nor where the money comes from. but we do need more police now.