Stephen Greenhalgh: Police challenged over the dramatic increase in knife crime in Fulham

Stephen Greenhalgh writes

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.

Rising crime trend locally

When I ask residents about their local concerns I have noticed that more and more of them are talking about crime.

The statistics confirm an upward trend locally. In Hammersmith and Fulham last year there were 21,692 crimes recorded last year. That compared with 20,881 the year before.

In Ravenscourt Park Ward the figure for 2017 was 1,252 – up from 1,077 in 2016. I don’t want to exaggerate the gloom. There had been a falling trend for many years. (In 2011 there were 1,354 crimes in the Ward.)

Also I suspect that more people take the trouble to report a crime when it has taken place. (The local team can be emailed on SNTFH-.RavenscourtPark@met.pnn.police.uk). I remember when I first became a councillor 12 years ago victims of a crime would talk to me about waiting ages to get through to the police on the phone – perhaps giving up after half an hour  or so concluding there was no point in making the report anyway. These days it is both easier to report a crime and doing so is more widely recognised as worth doing. The Neighbourhood Watches are a fantastic help.

There is a crime map published for each area giving full information about the location and type of each crime that has been recorded. The one for Ravenscourt Park Ward can be found here.  When someone who lives in Rivercourt Road mentioned to me that there had been “spate of car crime” on his street I was able to check on the map to confirm this was true. This then strengthened the case for CCTV – which is usually provided by the Council and they have promised me they will provide.

By the way CCTV is not a panacea – although it can sometimes be crucial. Cameras are monitored 27/7 in the control room Hammersmith Town Hall. But there are not enough people to monitor all the cameras at once. So not all culprits are caught live. Going through the recordings afterwards is time consuming. I have suggested that volunteers could be invited to help with this – both with live monitoring and going through the recordings. It is always tempting to demand more and more cameras. But we also need more people to check them.

Often the criminals wear hoodies – that sometimes means their faces don’t get caught on the camera. Sometimes there are a network of cameras so it can be spotted where the criminal escapes to – sometimes there isn’t.

Moped crime is a particular problem across London. The mopeds are stolen and then used as convenient vehicles to undertake further crime. We have the absurd situation that the police are constrained from chasing thieves who are not wearing helmets – for health and safety reasons.

There is quite a lot of  traffic legislation that does not give an specific exemptions to the police who are in pursuit of criminals – for instance if police officers are speeding, or going over a red light. It was never thought necessary as it was assumed that the Crown Prosecution Service would exercise common sense…the police no longer have that confidence and so specific legal protections are needed.

Then we have had the reduction in “stop and search”. This was motivated by political correctness. Innocent black teenagers were stopped a disproportionate number of times. Yet it is also innocent black teenagers who have been the greatest victims when the police walk by on the other side.

Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner says:

“We have probably had a 20% increase in knife crime in London in the last year and that is not acceptable to me, so I am encouraging my officers to do stop and search as one of many things that will help to bring this number down.

“I am very much in favour of stop and search. And I’ve said that to my officers and I want them to feel confident to use it. Now we have body-worn video that helps as well in terms of accountability

“In London about one in three stop and searches result in something being found. That shows we are not just doing random work.”

I would hope that with some of these problems being addressed we can see the crime rate falling again.

Council has only evicted six “neighbours from Hell” in the last 18 months

I have written before about the Council’s feeble approach to tackling anti social behaviour on our council estates. I’m afraid this problem persists.

At a meeting I attended last night figures were released which showed 691 incidents recorded in the last 18 months – but only six culprits evicted.

Now it is true that evictions are not always needed. Sometimes an initial warning litter is reasonable and does the trick. There is also the complication that sometimes those causing the difficulty are alcoholics, drug addicts or mentally ill and should be placed in supported housing and provided with specialist treatment. This could be paid for from the Council’s £22.3 million Public Health budget – which is presently largely wasted. Often those is need of such help will agree to move voluntarily – whether they are involved in anti social behaviour or not.

But the reality is that there are “neighbours from Hell” causing misery who should be evicted who have not been. It will be entirely normal when I canvass a block of council flats to be told of one resident causing misery for everyone else in the block. Hammersmith and Fulham owns 12,500 homes. Only a very small minority of tenants cause persistent serious problems. Perhaps fewer than one per cent – but it’s certainly more than 0.05 per cent. Yet they are not being removed. That needs to change. We delay too long before going to court.

Of course gathering evidence is crucial. For instance previously the Council would release CCTV images of those urinating in lifts so that they could be identified. We should do this again.

Also we should tackle the environment that fosters anti social behaviour. The arrangements for removing graffiti are too bureaucratic. The Council spends time and money on admin assessing who owns the property and then write letters to them asking them to remove it. Different teams cover different areas. But one effective way of discouraging graffiti – which is often obscene or threatening – is for it to be removed quickly. As I have requested previously the Council should provide free, rapid, comprehensive graffiti removal service to cover all property in the borough.

Andrew Brown: Reflections a week on from the Parsons Green attack

A guest post from Cllr Andrew Brown, a Conservative Councillor for Town Ward.

A week today, for residents of our borough, and Fulham especially, our worst fears came to be. With the terrible atrocities at Parliament, in Manchester and London Bridge I’m sure many of us worried that something like that could happen in our community, but hoped it never would. Why would they target our small part of London? But they did, whether intentionally or through incompetence on the way to another target.

All the feelings that we experience when terrorist attacks happen anywhere, are magnified when they are in your country, more so in your city and most of all in your neighbourhood. As a councillor in Town Ward, where the tube station is located, I know hundreds of local residents, many of them friends who use the district line and Parsons Green Station every day. I’m sure everyone in our borough must also know lots of people, both friends and family, who use the station as well, live nearby, or are pupils at the local schools. Our thoughts immediately rush to wondering if they are safe.

I was not far away from the station, having just dropped off my daughter at school, when the headmistress alerted me to the helicopter flying overhead and told me to check the news. The rest of the day went by in a blur, keeping up with the news, liaising with councillor colleagues and local residents’ associations as well as the police and the council.

It was extremely fortunate that the device failed to fully detonate, and we have to be incredibly thankful that nobody was serious injured or killed. I hope that anyone injured on the train, or in the crush afterwards, makes a speedy recovery and receives all the help and support to deal with any psychological trauma as well as any physical injuries. That is now the most important thing.

I was however, also struck by the incredible bravery and professionalism of our emergency services, who put aside their own safety and raced to help those caught up in the incident. The immediate response as well as the police and intelligence work over the last week has highlighted their dedication to keeping us all safe.

But something else struck me and many others, and that was the community spirit in Parsons Green. When I spoke with a Chair of one of the residents’ associations, they told me that residents who had been evacuated from their homes were being taken in for the day by people in neighbouring streets, or being looked after in local businesses such as the White Horse pub, the Sloaney Pony to the locals.

It was this neighbourliness that was exemplified by Teo Catino of Il Pagliaccio who set up a stall on Parsons Green to hand out free bottles of water and 200 pizzas to members of our emergency services.

If anyone had been killed or seriously injured we wouldn’t be able to focus on these acts of kindness, but we should be very thankful that this message of togetherness, compassion and community spirit can be what we remember.

 

Charlie Dewhirst: Mistake for H&F Council to downgrade crime fighting

Cllr Charlie Dewhirst writes

At last night’s Full Council meeting the Labour administration passed a change to the Council constitution to remove the post of Director of Safer Neighbourhoods and transfer of all their responsibilities to Environmental Health. This is a disturbing development and provides a troubling insight into the local Labour Party’s priorities.

The previous Conservative administration had a very proud record on crime reduction in this borough – working with the police to reduce crime by 25% over eight years.

I did think for a while the current administration was at least giving the impression of taking crime as seriously. However, this strikes me as a particularly counter-productive decision at a time when the picture is alarming.

In the last year crime has risen overall by 4.5% across London. Robbery is up 12%, theft up 7% and sexual offences up over 9%. Moped-enabled crime has risen seven fold in the last two years to over 7,500 offences a year – more than 20 each day in the capital.

Locally in our borough, violence against the person is up more than 4%, sexual offences up 11% and robbery up by a staggering 28% in the last year. In addition, the Mayor of London is cutting the local Crime Prevention Fund in Hammersmith and Fulham by 33% next year.

Now is clearly not the time for the Council to be pushing crime down the list of priorities. Tackling crime and anti-social behaviour will be a primary focus for a future Conservative administration in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Action needed on moped thefts

I have written elsewhere about the growing epidemic of moped thefts. Part of the problem is that as the culprit is not wearing a helmet the police are under instructions not to pursue them for health and safety reasons. The Mayor of London to give stronger guidance.

Another problem is when the police do catch the thief the sentencing is so lenient. Often the criminals brazenly show off their exploits all over social media – with photos and videos taunting the police on Facebook.

Often the stolen mopeds are then used for other crimes. I had an email this week from one Neighbourhood Watch group in Ravenscourt Park Ward about drug dealers using stolen mopeds.

There is a scheme in Southwark to combat motorbike theft by installing “anchors”.

£500 seems rather a lot for each anchor.

I asked the Council for what we are doing and got the following response from Commissioning And Performance Officer:

Dear Councillor Phibbs,

 Thank you for your recent enquiry relating to the scheme in Southwark to fit ground anchors in residents driveways.

 The scheme in Southwark has clearly been well received and will hopefully have a positive impact on the number of moped thefts in that Borough. Hammersmith and Fulham experiences similar challenges and officers have worked closely with the police to design schemes aimed at tackling the problem. As such, a GPS Tagging Project was introduced in 2016. The unit cost for this scheme is approximately £50 which demonstrates excellent value for money and, due to its lower cost, has enabled 80 mopeds to be tagged. We currently have the resources to fit 80 more. Much of the motorcycle and moped theft in the borough involves vehicles being taken from the street as many residents do not have off-street parking, so we feel that GPS tagging is a more appropriate solution for this borough than the Southwark scheme.

 Residents can have this equipment fitted to their vehicle free of charge and the police are then able to track their vehicles if they are stolen. Residents can apply for the scheme by contacting CSU@lbhf.gov.uk

Hate crime is being defeated in Hammersmith and Fulham

The EU referendum result was most emphatically not a victory for bigotry. On the contrary it was a vote for a positive, democratic future – for the UK to be an outward looking, free trading, self governing nation. But some thought it was a licence for intolerance – some residents from other EU states feared it was, a handful of bigoted yobs hoped it was. The number was very small but highly unpleasant – including the notorious incident of obscene, racist graffiti on the Polish Centre in King Street.

Fortunately although there have been half a dozen incidents thought to be linked to the referendum Hannah Wheeler, Chief Inspector Partnership for the Hammersmith and Fulham Police reports overall here has not been an increase in Hate Crime locally:

“The DWO for the ward Pc Jenny Doe has very close links with the Polish centre and we also have a Polish MSC Sgt who supports them as well. Their security was reviewed last year from a Counter terrorism perspective and their staff were trained as well by Sgt Penman and I have also asked the Crime prevention design Advisor – Dave Hinton to attend and review again. In the latest incident the letter has been submitted for forensic examination and was posted from Sheffield – no reason and probably someone trolling following the recent media exposure of the centre.

Hate crime remains at the levels it was prior to the Referendum vote – we have had roughly 10 per week – of the 39 reported only 6 have a direct reference to the referendum and they were in the immediate days after the vote.

To give you a flavour of what the latest reports are

2 are homophobic – parties know to each other.

3 relate to drunk customers in shops being refused service and saying ‘ go back to your own country’ or words to that affect .

1 last night was an abusive male in the front office at Hammersmith that racially abused a police officer and was arrested.

We have a daily crime digest for the borough of MOPAC crimes and following the referendum I asked that all Hate crime was recorded daily on that digest as well so we are closely monitoring for any increase or change in severity however the latest reported hate crimes are of the same nature to those prior to the referendum.

I hope this allays any fears you may have?  If you are aware of anecdotal reports of ‘talk’ about hate crime then please check whether it has been reported so we can accurately police all our hate crime.”