black-path-cleanup_ft

Network Rail brings clarity to Black Path

Industrial strength machinery brought in to tackle Black Path

Industrial strength machinery brought in to tackle Black Path. Photo via Richard Olszewski

Months of recent community work and lobbying came to some fruition on Tuesday 20th with a site visit to the Black Path and meeting with local residents by representatives from Network Rail, the British Transport Police, Camden Council and the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood Team.

They were joined by two very welcome maintenance workers from Network Rail, who were armed with machinery more suited to the task of cutting back years’ worth of overgrown vegetation than that with which we came to the WHL-organised community clean-up day back in September. As a result regular users of the path will notice a huge improvement in some of the most obstructed stretches.

David Rose, from Network Rail’s East Midlands team and Tim Ramskill, who works on crime prevention for the BTP, came to discuss safety and maintenance issues on the path. In the wake of a small number of attacks on the path in the last few weeks, Jim Craig and Simon Bishop from the SNT were on hand, as was Fortune Green councillor Richard Olszewski – who himself uses the path regularly.

Personal security and the vexed question of overhanging vegetation were top of the agenda of course, but discussion points also included safety issues around the tarmac surface, walls and lighting, as well as ownership and responsibility for the path itself.

L-R, Network Rail's David Rose, local resident Julia Deakin, Cllr Richard Olszweski, Simon Bishop and Jim Craig from West Hampstead SNT discuss safety and maintenance on the Black Path.

L-R, Network Rail’s David Rose, local resident Julia Deakin, Cllr Richard Olszweski, Simon Bishop and Jim Craig from West Hampstead SNT discuss safety and maintenance on the Black Path.

Mr Rose was able to confirm that Network Rail owns all the land from the railway line up to – but not including – the walls and fences that border the backs of gardens along Sumatra Road, which belong to the respective property freeholders. However the path itself (not including fences on either side) is leased to Camden, so the council is responsible for the surface, lighting and security. He also raised the question of what might happen if or when government policy forces Network Rail to sell off the land in the future; an unknown quantity obviously, but a potential concern if the path were to fall into private hands and be taken out of public ownership.

The SNT told us that it is currently advising people not to use the path for the time being whilst their investigation into the recent attacks is is ongoing. If you do choose to continue using it, the police recommend carrying a personal alarm. All at the meeting agreed that installation of CCTV would be hugely helpful, but cost and logistical issues may make this unfeasible: the path is 500 meters long and would have to be cabled all the way, even before accounting for the expense of upkeep.

Whilst some of the worst of the overhanging tree growth was cleared by the Network Rail team and their chainsaws, many of the most obtrusive plants are impossible to deal with effectively from the path and would need to be tackled by their owners from within Sumatra Road gardens. By coincidence, later that same day, detective work on the part of a particularly diligent local campaigner revealed that the freeholder of one of the worst-offending gardens is a West Hampstead businessman. Residents are now urging Camden to issue an enforcement notice to the freeholder in order to oblige him to maintain his garden and repair its damaged fence, which intrudes onto the pathway.

It was a productive meeting that ended with a real sense that all the stakeholders were engaged with the problems faced on the path as well as other local Network Rail-owned properties, such as Billy Fury Way, and that solutions could be found for some of the most pressing issues. With vegetation cleared, sightlines would be improved along the whole length of the Black Path, giving better visibility both to pedestrians and cyclists – and fewer places in which to hide. There will be further challenges along the way, as budgets continue to be slashed both at Network Rail and Camden, but the willingness at least is clearly there.

Meanwhile, if you live on that side of Sumatra Road: please, find some time over the holidays to get down the end of your garden with a large pair of shears

You could be barred from entry after midnight

The Good Ship late licence at risk

The late license of Kilburn’s popular music/comedy venue, The Good Ship, will be reviewed this Thursday. At the moment, it opens until 3am, but if the licensing committee rules follows the wishes of the police, it will be required to close at 2am – crucially with the last entry at midnight.

You could be barred from entry after midnight

You could be barred from entry after midnight

Owner John McCooke says that a very significant percentage of the venue’s revenue is generated between midnight and 3am so the suggested measures would “effectively closes the venue at midnight, making the business unviable”.

If you don’t know The Good Ship, it’s a bar with a friendly stage that hosts an astounding number of bands, comedians, DJs, charity and community nights. Music ranges across all the genres from math rock to REM cover bands to jazz funk. It provides a valuable opportunity for new acts to get exposure and more established acts to practice new material – it’s pretty common to turn up for the comedy on a Monday night and see a household name added to the bill.

This decision is happening in the same month that a London night tsar has been appointed to champion late-night culture. Amy Lamé, who is the first person to fill the role, told the BBC ‘We need to stem the flow of those closures [of clubs and venues across London]. Long-time locals may remember the sad closure of Kilburn’s The Luminaire in 2010. This was a huge loss to the west London music scene, which began its inexorable march east.

There is inevitably some dispute about whether the Ship’s opening hours are contributing to antsocial behaviour. In the Kilburn Times, McCooke says reports of bad behaviour are exaggerated. My personal experience, and that of local friends, has always been that The Good Ship offers a fun night out and it’s certainly an important, vibrant contributor to London’s arts culture. How many more pubs and venues will be turned into coffee shops, bakeries and luxury flats? We wish John and team all the best of luck on Thursday.

post-office_ft

Growling robber at West Hampstead Post Office

The post office at the Sherriff Centre was still closed this morning following the robbery that took place on Saturday afternoon. The café and Hullabaloo soft play centre are open as normal, but post office staff were explaining the temporary closure to a steady flow of customers.

Post Office at Sherriff Centre closed temporarily.

Post Office at Sherriff Centre closed temporarily.

One of the staff members, Robert, a familiar face behind the counter, explained that he was behind the counter on Saturday when the robbery took place.

“It was around 4pm and not very busy when a tall skinny man came in. I was serving a customer and instead of standing back he stood to the side of her, which was unusual”.

“After I finished serving that customer I then asked how I could help him. He asked for change for a five pound note. When I opened the till he leant over the counter and grabbed the money from the till. Then he ran off, putting the money in his jacket but dropping quite a lot of it, before jumping on his bicycle and cycling off.”

“Oddly, he was quite quiet for most of the time but when challenged as he raided the till he growled” a still slightly shaken Robert recalled.

Not only is there CCTV in the centre but a number of parents who were in the Centre at the time took photos of the robber with their phones so there are some good leads for the Police.

The reason the Post Office is still closed is that staff are waiting for an audit to see exactly how much was stolen.  However, they are hopeful that this will happen soon and it will be service as normal by this afternoon.

Father Andrew Cain (who has form for dealing with criminals!), the driving force behind the successful Sherriff Centre said that “the staff behaved professionally, the local community helped by taking photos for evidence and this incident isn’t going to stop us doing what we need to do”.

Natalia

Alliance fundraising appeal to help Natalia Czekaj’s mother

On January 6th, Natalia Czekaj was found dead at her home in Harrow. Natalia worked behind the bar at The Alliance pub on Mill Lane where she was much loved. A 34-year-old man has been charged with her murder.

Natalia

Locals are raising funds to help Natalia’s mother repatriate her daughter’s body to Poland, which she otherwise cannot afford. In a tragic coincidence, Natalia’s father, who was a policeman, was apparently also killed when she was young.

Michael Keating, landlord at The Alliance, is collecting money behind the bar, but a bank account has also been set up so people can contribute directly:
Account name: Natalia Fund
Account no. 63772314
Sort code: 20-74-63

Donations can be made online, or in person at any Barclays Bank. Barclays will transfer the money to Poland free of charge, and any other admin costs will be covered by the campaign’s organisers.

West Hampstead Life understands that some £600 has been raised already, but the target is £3,000.

One of the campaign’s organisers said “Let’s show Natalia’s family that we, as a community, sympathise with their tragic loss and stand beside them in their time of need. She was brave enough to try to make a life in our city and we should be generous enough to send her home with dignity.”

It would take only small contributions from all our readers to reach this target, and I can’t begin to imagine the emotions Natalia’s mother is feeling right now having lost her daughter in such a manner, and being unable to bring her home.

If you feel able to help, please do make a donation.

Kilburn_map_Dyne Road

Man dies by Kilburn High Road pub

[updated]
Sometime around 1am Sunday morning, police closed Kilburn High Road between Dyne Road and Christchurch Avenue. Initial reports were that a man in his early 30s had died following an altercation at a pub, believed to be the North London Tavern. Subsequently, staff at the NLT told one customer that a man had had a heart attack and then collapsed. There has been talk on Twitter of another incident on Dyne Road.

Police are yet to release a statement on what happened last night.

Kilburn_map_Dyne Road

Remix_bar

Remix latest victim in West Hampstead burglary spree

Remix’s new bar/salon on Broadhurst Gardens is the latest victim in a spate of break-ins to West Hampstead businesses that’s now reached double figures in the past few weeks.

Remix_bar

Remix’s new premises on the north side of Broadhurst Gardens was the latest target after its salon opposite had already been hit

After West End Lane Books and La Brocca suffered burglaries at the weekend, Remix’s new premises was burgled in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Intruders broke in at the back of the building and stole the till, a company laptop, alcohol from the salon’s new bar, and hairdressing equipment. Salon manager Nick Petkov said he was bemused by some of the items stolen, which included scissors, clippers and top-of-the-range shampoo.

Danny Van Emden from West End Lane books said it was “utterly inspiring how lovely everyone’s been”, adding that since the incident in which £140 was stolen but no books were touched, sympathetic customers had brought biscuits, croissants and flowers, and that the shop had received around 400 supportive tweets. “The response of our customers, both in person and on Twitter, mitigated the sadness we felt on Saturday morning.”

A couple of doors down, La Brocca was also broken into on Saturday night, and had bottles of alcohol stolen.

Other West End Lane businesses that have been targeted recently include Toomai, hairdresser Holistic, health food shop Health Town, Remix’s other Broadhurst Gardens premises, Pro Arte the violin shop, the Sherriff Centre, and a couple of businesses on Finchley Road.

Tim Khoshsima of Health Town said that his shop’s front window and glass shelves were smashed, and thieves made off with the till and items of stock including protein supplements and beauty products. He said “I love West Hampstead as an area to do business, but this has made me realise we need to be more careful”. He added that he planned to take more precautions agains burglaries, including fitting a shutter.

Sergeant Ian Hutton from the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood team believes the burglaries may be linked, and the burglary squad is investigating. CCTV footage exists of at least one of the break-ins, in another case, the CCTV unit itself was stolen.

Sgt Hutton advised businesses not to keep large amounts of cash on premises, as this is the main target for thieves. He also advised that if people see anything suspicious especially at the rear of shops that they call the police then, not leave it until the morning. If you are suspicious, 101 is appropriate, but if you believe a crime is taking place 999 is the correct call.

The police can also give free crime prevention advice to any business that requests it. Just call 101.

toomai-front

Toomai thieves steal cash, champagne and… prawns

Burglars broke into pan-Asian restaurant Toomai on Sunday night, making off with the weekend’s cash takings and causing damage to the premises.

Sachin Mulane, proprietor of the West End Lane restaurant, said that the intruders had entered the building by climbing onto the roof and breaking a window to gain access to the kitchen at the back. Guglee, also co-owned by Sachin, was broken into earlier this year.

Although they were unable to open the locked till, they took envelopes of cash from the basement office, as well as five bottles of champagne and, bizarrely, a bag of prawns that had been left out to thaw. A cash collection towards a staff Christmas party was also taken.

Worse than the missing cash, Sachin said, was the chaos and vandalism he discovered throughout the premises. Electronic point-of-sale equipment was damaged, and the kitchen’s order printer destroyed. Food in the kitchen that had been prepared in advance had to be discarded in case it had been tampered with. The thieves had even tried to remove the large TV screen in the front window, but were unable to wrench it off its metal pole.

Despite the setbacks, Toomai was open as usual for lunch on Monday.

billyfury_mural_ft

Should Billy Fury Way be closed?

If you’ve ever needed to get from West End Lane to Finchley Road on foot, chances are you’ve peered down Billy Fury Way, the footpath linking the two roads, and then decided to keep walking and taken a brighter-lit alternative, such as Lymington Road or Blackburn Road.

billyfury_mural_2

The Billy Fury mural as seen from West End Lane

Now, Cllr Philip Rosenberg is questioning whether the path, which was given a makeover only three years ago, should be kept open at all, and is inviting locals to give their opinions on what the future of the footpath should be. Discussion has already started on Twitter, with different viewpoints being aired:

Philip Rosenberg recently met with representatives of the Lithos Road Residents’ Association, who complained of the antisocial behaviour the path, which links through to their road, seems to attract, such as drinking, drug use, people “loitering”, and dumping of rubbish.

billyfury_cans

A pile of cans close to the Finchley Road end of the path

At yesterday’s Safer Neighbourhoods meeting, he raised the issue with local police, who confirmed it is a problematic area to patrol, and often used as an escape route by criminals.

There seem to be a few options to make Billy Fury Way a safer, more salubrious footpath: the first is improving it with better lighting, a thorough clean-up, and more police patrols. Philip Rosenberg points out that this would require investment which, after the last round of police and council funding cuts, may be better spent elsewhere especially if the path is not well-used by locals. This is why he wants to understand locals’ thoughts on a second option of permanently closing the path altogether. This would probably mean closing the middle section from the path at the back of the Blackburn Road student accommodation to the path into the Lithos estate. This would still provides access at either end but cut off any getaway route.

Over to the residents of West Hampstead: Is Billy Fury Way a convenient cut-through, or a crime hotspot? Do you use it at present, and would you be more inclined to walk down it in the daytime or nighttime if the lighting was better or if it felt safer somehow? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet Cllr Rosenberg @PhilR_R

billyfury_bridge

View of the railway bridge section of path, looking towards West Hampstead

The even less salubrious Finchley Road end of the path

The even less salubrious Finchley Road end of the path

JW3Lockdown

False alarm as JW3 suspect package closes Finchley Road

[updated 6.45pm]

A suspect package that caused Finchley Road to close this morning turned out to contain t-shirts and flyers.

Mitzvah Day, an organization based at JW3, the Jewish community centre on Finchley Road, received a large package this morning, which it deemed suspect. Police cordoned off a large section of Finchley Road from Blackburn Road to Frognal Lane.

Road closure - photo via @stephenbudd

Road closure – photo via @stephenbudd

Traffic was forced onto Fortune Green Road and West End Lane, causing jams in the area.

With Lymington Road closed from West End Lane to Finchley Road, it became apparent that JW3 was the focus of police attention. An hour later, and CST – a charity that helps Jewish organisations deal with security and antisemitism – tweeted that it was confirmed as a false alarm and the police cordon was being lifted.

Police had carried out a controlled explosion, which was when it transpired that the package was in fact promotional material, including t-shirts, that Mitzvah Day had ordered.

crediton hill graffiti

Crediton Hill residents asked to be vigilant

The residents of Crediton Hill, West Hampstead, have been disturbed by a couple of unsettling incidents in the past week and police are asking householders in the area to be extra cautious about answering their doors to strangers.

Firstly, at least four different houses in the road have had swastikas daubed on their front doors. These incidents have been reported to the police, and the Crediton Hill Residents Association (CHRA) is urging residents to be vigilant and to report similar cases to the police by dialling 101.

The graffiti has so far appeared only on Crediton Hill, although one identical looking case was reported in Frognal. The fact that the symbol has been drawn the wrong way round suggests that it is unlikely to be the work of neo-Nazis.

Some residents believe there could be a connection to a door-to-door seller of cleaning supplies, who was spotted in the area at around the time the graffiti appeared. In three out of the four cases, the householder reported turning away the seller before finding the swastika 15-30 minutes later. This could, however, be complete coincidence.

Secondly, a couple of residents on the street have reported a man calling door-to-door enquiring about buying old jewellery and other antique items from residents. The man, in his 50s, has knocked on doors distributing his card. In one case, an elderly woman let him in to her home, though did not sell him any items. She described him as “not aggressive, but insistent”. Suspicious, she called the police. Although the man has not done anything illegal, police believe from the details the woman was able to give that he may be connected to thefts in Kent some years ago, for which a man was convicted.

Larry Trachtenberg, Chair of the CHRA, hosted a meeting at his house on Saturday to talk about recent events, which was also attended by a police representative.

The police are advising concerned residents, particularly the elderly and those on their own, to be extremely cautious about opening their doors to strangers. In the case of the young door-to-door salesman, residents are advised not to confront him but to ring 101 and let the police know he is on the street.

If the second, older man rings your bell, again, police advice is to be vigilant and you may wish to call 101.

It’s worth mentioning that at the local CHRA annual meeting, the local safer neighbourhoods PC reiterated that crime in the area – and on Crediton Hill in particular – is exceptionally low. This is a safe area, but locals should of course not be complacent.

SgtHuttonBanner

Tweets from the beat: West Hampstead Sergeant joins Twitter

The police seem to have an uneasy relationship with Twitter. While accounts such as @MPSInTheSky attract legions of followers and brilliantly balance updates on activity with behind-the-scenes insights, the borough level accounts are a bit more hit and miss. Brent’s account is fairly active, for example, but Camden seems to have chosen to tread a much more cautious path.

Here in West Hampstead, we had an early adopter in the brilliant @WHLocalPlod with her Juliet Bravo avatar (cultural reference for the grown-ups there), but this was always an unofficial account, even though it was run with the utmost professionalism and integrity. Once she left the Met, there was a gap to be filled.

A year later and Sgt. Ian Hutton, the new(ish) Safer Neighbourhood Sergeant for West Hampstead & Fortune Green, today announced his official Twitter account: MPS_WHampstdSgt. He is one of a growing number of Safer Neighbourhood officers on Twitter – all with sanctioned accounts.

Sgt Ian Hutton

Sgt Ian Hutton

Getting on Twitter makes a lot of sense from the police’s point of view. It’s a good way of rapidly interacting with the public, especially with so many amplifier accounts out there who can ensure that public information news is disseminated quickly.

Of course, all police accounts emphasise that they are not to be used to report crime. This is pretty much common sense. In an emergency, call 999; if it’s not an emergecy, dial 101.

West Hampstead Life wishes Sgt Hutton the best of luck with his account. These are testing times for the police, but engaging with the public using the very channels that the public uses itself can only be a good thing. Inevitably they’ll cop some flak, and it’s always easier to abuse someone from the safety of an anonymous account than it is face-to-face. Nevertheless, if we want the police to be more accountable and approachable, getting them using Twitter is a good thing in my book.

I hope that the MPS Camden account itself is able to step up and deliver the same sort of service. As I write, at 10.20pm on January 9th, the account hasn’t tweeted since January 2nd.

WFC_690

Burglary at The Wet Fish Café

Burglars broke into The Wet Fish Café on Sunday night. They made off with the safe, which had only a few hundred pounds in it. However, the burglars  also caused around £1,000 worth of damage to the building.

Owner André Millodot arrived at work on Monday morning but didn’t immediately notice the chaos. “I opened up as usual, put the lights on, put the music on… then noticed the smashed bathroom.”

IMG_1064

The burglars entered through the toilet window at the back, which is accessed from the small service road behind the row of businesses on West End Lane. They had managed to detach the grille that covers the window, which must have taken considerable force. Pulling down these bars also ripped away the wooden frame and surrounding brickwork.

An upstairs neighbour later confirmed that he’d heard “heavy banging” at around 11pm. “It was raining heavily and we closed early”, said André. The neighbour assumed that the noise was people upstairs moving heavy furniture about, so didn’t investigate further.

It’s the fourth break-in in the restaurant’s 10-year history.

Police and forensics investigated at the scene, and there is a CCTV camera in the service road, which hopefully will give some clues.

By the end of Monday, André confirmed that the toilet had been fixed and bars re-installed on the window. Although the restaurant had been closed over the Christmas period for a thorough sprucing up, the bathroom hadn’t been part of that work.

Despite the New Year setback, André is staying positive.”It could have been worse,” he said, even managing a wry smile at the joke they’d coincidentally chalked on the board outside earlier on the Sunday.

chalkboard

FatalityWillesden

Police chase has fatal conclusion

The first reports on Twitter were of a trespasser on the tracks, causing delays to the Metropolitan Line and then the Jubilee Line, and then services out of Marylebone, which all indicated it was around this part of London. Add in police helicopters over Kilburn and it seemed clear that something major had happened.

Around 4.30pm, police officers stopped a man in Christchurch Avenue, Willesden Green who they believed him to be in possession of drugs. The man broke away from the two officers and escaped on foot. Both officers followed on foot.

The man was pursued and observed from a distance for around 40 minutes, during which time he was seen to run into gardens, climb over fences and go onto railway lines.

At 5.12pm, the man was hit by a train on the line near Dartmouth Road, Willesden. The man, believed to be in his 20s, was pronounced dead at the scene. Officers await formal identification and confirmation that next of kin have been informed. A post-mortem examination will be arranged in due course.

SabrinaMoss2

Four arrests in Sabrina Moss murder case

[updated Oct 4th 1.15pm]

The Met has arrested four men on suspicion of murdering Sabrina Moss following a pre-planned operation in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Armed officers were involved, and they had warrants for five addresses across north-west London. A 28-year-old was arrested in Cricklewood, a 19-year-old and another 28-year-old were arrested in Kilburn and a 19-year-old was arrested in Wembley. All four were taken into custody at a north London police station. One of the four, Hassan Hussain, 28, from the Willesden area, has been charged. The other three have been bailed to appear in court in November.

Searches are being carried out at the addresses where the men were arrested and two other addresses in Cricklewood and Kilburn. Another search is also being undertaken at an alleyway in Kilburn.

You will recall that Sabrina, who was out celebrating her 24th birthday, was shot together with her friend Sabrina Gachette outside Woody Grill on Kilburn High Road at about 4.15 in the morning On Saturday, 24th August. The two Sabrinas were taken by ambulance to hospital but Sabrina Moss was pronounced dead later that morning. A post-mortem gave the cause of death as a gunshot wound to the chest.

Sabrina Moss

Sabrina Gachette has now been released from hospital but is still receiving medical treatment for the injuries inflicted during this attack.

A 22-year-old man, Martell Warren, was arrested the following Tuesday. He has been charged and is now in custody to appear at the Old Bailey on 19 November.

Sabrina’s funeral was held only last Friday in Burnt Oak. More than 300 people attended.

According to the BBC, Father Dane Batley-Gladden who led the service at St Alphage Church said:

Someone who was at the very heart of what they were as a family has been ripped away from them. A large number of people think to carry weapons is fine and actually it isn’t. It clearly breaks apart communities and damages people and the message we need to send out from here is it’s time it stopped.

He’s reported to have said during the service, “Going out tooled up is wrong”.

Detectives continue to appeal for witnesses and information and anyone who can assist police are asked to call the incident room on 020 8358 0300 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Related stories:
Sabrina Moss: One week on last updated August 31st
Sabrina Moss: Man arrested at St Pancras last updated August 29th
Sabrina Moss: Arrested men also shot last updated August 28th
Kilburn High Road double shooting last updated August 25th

Sabrina-Moss-Sabrina-Gachette

Sabrina Moss murder: man arrested at St Pancras

[last updated Aug 29th 6pm]

Martell Warren (22), was arrested by officers from the British Transport Police at St Pancras International train station on Tuesday night on suspicion of the murder of Sabrina Moss and the attempted murder of the her friend Sabrina Gachette, who is still in hospital. According to the Camden New Journal, he has now been charged on one count of murder, three counts of attempted murder and two firearms offences. He will appear at Highbury Magistrates’ Court on Friday.

Sabrina Moss (L) and Sabrina Gachette

Miss Moss and Miss Gachette, both 24, were shot on Saturday morning outside Woody Grill on Kilburn High Road. Police believe they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Two men, also shot in the incident, were arrested over the weekend but were then released without charge.

Police are still appealing for witnesses.

Sabrina_Moss_flowersj

Sabrina Moss: Arrested men also shot

[updated Aug 28th 8am]

Sabrina Moss, a 24-year-old mother and nursery teacher from Neasden, died after being shot outside Woody’s Grill at 211-213 Kilburn High Road at about 4.15 on Saturday morning. She was with a friend, who was also shot and is believed to be suffering from life-changing but not life-threatening injuries.

Sabrina had been out clubbing with friends to celebrate her 24th birthday. She and a friend were standing outside Woody’s talking to two men.

Two other men appeared across the road from Messina Avenue. It is believed they were armed with a shotgun and pistol. Shots were fired. The gunmen are then believed to have run back down Messina Avenue. Descriptions are limited – one was wearing dark clothing and the other had a lighter top.

Police have also been looking at at least one CCTV camera on West End Lane to establish the direction of travel of a particular vehicle. DCI Andy Partridge said: “There is no suggestion there was an exchange of gun fire as it appears it was two people who fired towards a group. If their target was an individual they would be aware they could hit anyone in that group.”

Sabrina and her friend, who were both shot, were taken to hospital where Sabrina later died.

Some time later, two men turned up at A&E at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington with gunshot wounds from the same incident. Both were subsequently arrested although have since been released without any further action.

At 5.30am Saturday, at least six shots were fired in Dart Street, W10 (near Queens Park). No-one was injured. The police were called but found no weapons and no arrests were made at the time, although one arrest was made later.

Police are very keen to talk to anyone in the area at the time, especially anyone who might have been in or near Woody’s Grill around 4am on Saturday, or anyone who might have seen the men on Messina Avenue. Detectives believe there are 20 people who were in or around Woody Grill at that time who have yet to come forward.

The incident room number is 020 8358 0300, or you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

This description of events would tally with the police’s initial assertion that the women were in the wrong place at the wrong time and found themselves caught up in an incident they had nothing to do with. The police want to reassure the community that this is thought to be a localised one-off incident.

The Daily Mail has an interview with Mike Hillman who owns Hillman Butchers, next door to Woody Grill. He said,

“When I turned up the road was closed off and the police were in the process of taping off other areas. There were around six police cars, two ambulances and an air ambulance vehicle. The barrier went around my shop and I was told to stay behind it.

In a period of around five minutes I saw three girls comes out of the kebab shop. They were banging on the shutters, they were hysterical. The girl that was murdered was then brought out from by the kebab shop on a stretcher. I couldn’t see what she looked like as she had an oxygen mask on.”

SabrinaMoss2

Kilburn High Road double shooting

[last updated Aug 25th 1.30pm]
[Aug 26th: more details emerge: http://www.westhampsteadlife.com/2013/08/sabrina-moss-arrested-man-also-shot-0203.html]

Two 24-year-old women were shot on Kilburn High Road in the early hours of Saturday morning, one fatally. The incident took place outside Woody Grill near Gascony Avenue. The woman who was killed was Sabrina Moss of Neasden. The other woman, who has not been named, is not believed to be suffering from life threatening injuries. Two men have been arrested in connection with the crime, though the police are still appealing for witnesses.

Sabrina Moss

Sabrina Moss, a nursery teacher who has a son, was out celebrating her 24th birthday with friends. It is not clear yet whether it was one of these friends who was also shot.

Forensic teams scour the pavement
(via Kerstin Rodgers)

DCI John Sandlin said:

Enquiries continue to establish the full circumstances of this tragic incident. At this early stage, I believe the two women were innocent parties who were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am appealing for anyone who witnessed the shooting, or who saw anything suspicion in the Kilburn area early this morning, to call police.

In particular, I need to hear from anyone who saw two males who came into the High Road from Messina Avenue and, after the shooting, made off on foot back along Messina Avenue.

Anyone with information that may assist the investigation should call the incident room at Hendon on 020 8358 0300. To remain anonymous, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Kilburn High Road is closed in both directions between Gascony Avenue and Burton Road. Buses are on diversion through West Hampstead.

Eerily quiet in Kilburn tonight
(via Kerstin Rodgers)

One of the friends, Zoe Ross, has already tweeted this morning.

I want u back beanie

Noticeboardbroken

Physical evidence of a broken community?

It would seem like a blatant act of vandalism. Smashing the glass on the newish community centre notice board is just mindless.

Adam Barnard noticed it on Monday and took this photo:

Smashing the glass, ok… taking the various flyers? How keen are these people on attending the next WI meeting or going to fathers and toddlers groups?

Yes, yes, I know… it’s more likely that library staff simply removed the posters for safekeeping while the glass was replaced.

Which didn’t take long. Yesterday, Adam took this photo:

All present and correct. Lets hope the vandalism was a one-off. Nothing says “broken community” than literally breaking the community notice board.

MaygroveBlue

West Hampstead tagged blue

Last week, I saw a link to a set of photos all taken by @UKColin around Maygrove Road and all of a stencil graffiti tag. It was one word: Blue. In blue spray paint of course.

Photo via @UKColin

Yesterday, I wandered down to see for myself quite the extent of this tagging.

It’s in a fairly concentrated area of Iverson Road and Maygrove Road (though not Loveridge Road) and far from being a few isolated spray of the odd wall or road sign, it’s a widespread tagging of people’s front walls, signposts, telephone boxes and in one instance, window sill.

Occasionally it’s been done with almost a nod of humour, but this is no witty street artist or ironic commentator, it’s just indiscriminate graffiti of people’s property. I didn’t come close to taking a photo of all the occurrences, but I still took more than 30 photos. Debbie Bennett, whose wall got tagged, tweeted “It is just vandalism – I actually love graffiti when it’s done well but no artistic merit in an idiot with a spray can & stencil.”

The dispersal suggests to me that whoever was doing it got as many as they could in when the coast was clear and then if a car or person came along they’d walk on. As a result, some stretches of the street are clear while others are inundated.

The tags are only on the north side of Iverson Road, and start roughly opposite where the little playground is. There are a couple at the juction of Ariel and Maygrove and then a lot more on both sides of Maygrove. Already, at least one has been painted over by the owner.

Strangely, this enormous expanse of white under the railway bridge was left untouched.

Camden police neighbourhoods

‘ello ‘ello What’s going on here?

The saga of the local police stations has dragged on a while but we do at last have some clarity now that the Local Policing Model has been finalised. It came into effect last week.

There’s been much publicity over the closure of Hampstead police station but less clarity over what was happening this side of the Finchley Road.

The answer is that West Hampstead police station (that’s the one on Fortune Green Road) will remain open as a deployment centre and the police horses will be staying.

The much-talked about “contact points” for our area will be at the police station (this is a change from what was expected) and at the Safer Neighbourhoods Base on West End Lane opposite the junction with Broadhurst Gardens. They will be open Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 7-8pm and Saturday afternoons from 2-3pm. These hours will be the same for all contact centres across London apparently! These contact points are “for non-urgent face-to-face contact, where the public can meet their local police at regular known times.” We should feel pretty special to have two contact points so close together. Across Camden, there are only three others – one of which is at the Swiss Cottage SNT base near the tube station.

Camden will have two (yes, just two) full-time front counters: Kentish Town police station will be open 24 hours a day, while Holborn will be open 8am-8pm weekdays and 10am-6pm on Saturday. Crimefighting takes a rest on Sunday. Over the border in Brent, Kilburn police station (that’s the one in Queen’s Park) will have a full-time front counter and Walm Lane in Willesden Green will be a contact point.

Back to Camden – the borough has been divided into three “neighbourhoods”: North, Central and South. Big neighbourhoods.Each Neighbourhood will also have an “appointment car”, with 30 slots available every day of the week. It’s not clear how these will work.

The three “neighbourhoods” of Camden

In terms of police numbers, each neighbourhood is headed by an inspector. In our case (we’re “North”) that’s Nikki Babb. West Hampstead & Fortune Green wards will share a sergeant, as they have for some time. Right now, that’s Ian Hutton. Then each ward has a dedicated PC and PCSO. There are an additional five teams of seven officers, each lead by one sergeant, who will be deployed across the seven wards that comprise the North “neighbourhood”.

simon_marcus

Tory candidate explains police station position

I received an e-mail yesterday from Hampstead ward councillor and Conservative PPC Simon Marcus about the closure of West Hampstead and Hampstead police stations. Simon, you’ll recall, when asked in an interview with the Ham & High about the area losing its police stations, said, “I think what people want is to see someone in that situation who is getting a result, and, as you know, what I’m trying to do in this difficult situation is get a result. People do not want empty promises and big ideals.”

Cllr Simon Marcus

Whether the difficult situation refers to the budget crisis facing central and local government, or the fact that it’s a Conservative mayor that’s driving through the cuts to emergency services wasn’t clear.

Simon continued, “What I’m fighting for is to replace those police stations with a base.”

In light of all this, here’s the mail I – and presumably many of you – received yesterday

Dear residents,

I am writing a report to be sent to Mayor Boris Johnson in response to the proposed closures of Hampstead and West Hampstead Police Stations.

As part of this report I need evidence to show how important it is that a police base is retained on these sites.

Many residents have mentioned that they no longer report crime in some circumstances. This may be because local police stations are sometimes closed, or for other reasons. However it is really important to gather evidence in order to measure the extent of unreported crime and its nature as this problem could become even more serious if we loose [sic] a police base in the area.

I would be extremely grateful if you could fill out this quick survey. To open and complete the survey, click on the following link http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BMDPRNC

It will take less than a minute or two and may help us keep a police presence in Hampstead!

Thank you,

Cllr Simon Marcus
Hampstead Town Ward
London Borough of Camden

It wasn’t obvious to me from this whether Simon wants to retain a police base in the existing station, or replace the stations with a base somewhere else. The answer, it turns out, lies somewhere between the two.

“I just don’t think we can save these police stations,” he said. “If the buildings are sold they must only go to a developer that will put in a smaller new police base on the sites at no cost to the taxpayer. In Hampstead, this could be a Safer Neighbourhoods base as well as a community centre. In West Hampstead, it might sit alongside a childcare centre.”

There is of course already a Safer Neighbourhood base in West Hampstead. Why that couldn’t be used as a (part time) front counter for the area remains unclear. Simon agreed that finding the simple solutions and taking them to City Hall was necessary. “We’ve got to go to them,” he said.

In the interim period between closing the police stations and these new developments opening up, which Simon admits could be a couple of years, he says that he’s already been discussing with Camden the possibility of using existing council premises to house temporary police counters.

In the meantime, he’s keen to gather evidence from locals on the levels of unreported crime to underpin the report he wants to deliver to Boris. He vehemently holds the line that his survey is not political and that he’s simply collecting the facts.

Simon’s going to face a conundrum, however. If the evidence shows that crime is under reported when there are police stations, that implies a) the presence of a front counter has nothing to do with crime reporting rates, or b) the front counter service is already inadequate. Yet having admitted that the closure of the stations is inevitable, this leaves Simon in a tricky spot.

There’s also a crucial question missing from the survey: “If you have reported crime in the past year how did you report it?”. Even if the survey shows that everyone is reporting all the crime, then unless we know how it’s being reported there’s not a lot we can do with that knowledge. If 100% of crime is reported via the telephone – to take the extreme scenario – then there’s very little need for any form of front counter. It doesn’t matter what percentage of people say they’ve been a victim of crime and reported it, it’s impossible to derive a meaningful implication for front counter service.

None of which should take away from the fact that it’s a good idea to collect some facts. I get the sense the closure in Hampstead is far more emotive than it is in West Hampstead. When the issue came up at last week’s Area Action Group there wasn’t as much grumbling as one might imagine – the fate of the police horses seemed to give more cause for concern (their destiny is yet to be decided). If the police station was an attractive listed building in the heart of West Hampstead, perhaps locals would have a different view.

Police station closure moves closer

As was widely expected – and reported in these pages back in November – West Hampstead police station is indeed set for closure.

This week, the draft consultation document was released that outlines which of London’s police stations will be shut. The document originates from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. This body runs the “estate” of the Met, i.e., the bricks and mortar.

The Estate Strategy (2012-2016) is “To deliver a more efficient and higher quality estate which meets the operational needs of the MPS and is significantly lower in cost to run.” The actual numbers are a 32 percent drop from £205 million in March this year to £140 million by April 2016. You’ll recall that the total cut to the Met’s budget is £500 million, so this £65 million is a relatively small part of that.

In “financial and space terms” (ie, “this means”) the Met will need to:

  • Enhance the opportunities for members of the public to meet with the police providing suitable access facilities in buildings that are already within the estate or local civic facilities, whilst also raising the profile of public facing properties through consistent standards of signage and corporate ‘look and feel’. [Yeeush. This is the “coffee shop police counters” bit]
  • Reduce the running costs of the MOPAC estate to £140m each year by 2015/16 – a 30% reduction on 2012 costs. [This is the “sell off the buildings” bit]
  • Reduce the amount of space occupied by 300,000 sq m by 2015/16. [see above]
  • Provide up to 950 modern cells, reducing the cost of the custody estate, and providing suitable facilities to support the reduction in the time it takes for a detainee being taken into custody to be processed. [This is the “centralise detention” bit]
  • To reduce the amount of residential accommodation owned by MOPAC to no more than 200 units whilst working with Residential Providers to provide affordable accommodation to officers and staff close to where they work. [This is the “force police officers to spend more time finding affordable accommodation” bit]

I’ve already discussed some of the broad principles here, but the core of the strategy as it relates to police stations is:

The Commissioner and the Mayor have committed to providing one 24 hour police station in each Borough and to not shutting any police station until there is a suitable alternative provision where the public can meet the police.

Camden’s 24hr station will be Holborn, Brent’s will be Wembley. Camden will also keep Kentish Town station open, although it will shift from being a 24hr station to a daytime station. West Hampstead, Albany Street and Hampstead stations will all close. Quite where the “suitable alternative provision” will be is not clear, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

It is debatable whether the closure of the front counter will have a major impact on most people. It’s not as if police officers are sitting at their desks waiting for someone to call 999 so they can jump in a car and hurtle to the scene of the crime. The impact of the larger cuts is likely to come more in the allocation of police resources across the regular officers, safer neighbourhood teams, and PCSOs rather than to the buildings.

We’re not in Dock Green any more

Skinny latte and a search warrant please
Back to those contact points. For those times when someone does want to walk into a police station, where will they go? Much of the press has gone big on the “coffeeshop coppers” angle, but are the police really going to use Starbucks and Costa as temporary front counters? Here’s what the consultation document says:

Many public sector organisations are now exploring opportunities to share the publicly owned/occupied estate. This not only reduces costs but creates a more engaging and vibrant use of facilities – it creates a more friendly face. 

Last time I looked, Starbucks in particular was not a “public sector organisation”. The document continues:

The MPS has recognised the need to enable the public to contact the police through a variety of different channels… The MPS describe this as ‘The Public Access Promise’. Since 2008, there has been a 20% reduction in crime reporting at front counters and a 32% increase in internet and email reporting. The Commissioner, for example, has committed that all victims of crime will be visited by a police officer if they wish rather than having to visit a police station – this benefits victims but also has a consequential effect on the need for police estate.

There’s no doubt that a Dixon of Dock Green style bobby waiting behind a front desk is both antiquated and probably largely (though not necessarily entirely) redundant. If Caroline Pigeon is right and one in four rapes are reported at front desks, then it would be interesting to know why that is so high. Surely, whatever the reason someone goes to a police station (voluntarily) they should have the right to a private room to explain their situation. That’s hard to find in a Costa, or outside a Sainsbury’s.

Not that the report appears to rule out completely working with the private sector (my emphasis):

As part of this estate strategy, MOPAC will further develop our relationships with other public sector bodies as well as private and third sector organisations specifically to find routes for the public to access the police in areas where they could access many other services.

Where might these places realistically be for us? The library is an obvious option. Perhaps the churches – St James’s is certainly looking to expand its role in the community. The foyer of the O2 centre is a regular spot for the Safer Neighbourhood roadshows, but could that replace a front counter?

The Public Access Strategy, which is being developed by the MPS, has highlighted that a number of front counters are underused. Once the strategy has been approved, following consultation initiatives, and the list finalised, those front counters will be replaced through the provision of ‘Contact Points’. The Contact Points will be in existing MPS and shared public buildings.

The pertinent question is then whether “shared public buildings” mean buildings owned by the public sector (libraries, sports centres) or buildings open to the public (shopping malls, cinemas etc.).

What I can’t understand is why Camden is apparently ruling out using the Safer Neighbourhood Base on West End Lane as a contact point? It’s an existing MPS building, it only needs to be manned whenever another contact point would be manned and the cost of making it accessible to the public would surely be fairly small – officers would have more resources on hand to deal with basic queries, there’s more privacy for members of the public, and even if a flat white was beyond officers’ ability I’m sure they could manage a milky Nescafé.

Will no-one think of the horses?
West Hampstead police station also houses some of the Met’s horses. It sounds as if their fate has yet to be decided:

The primary focus for the estate strategy is for the welfare of the animals and their proximity to where they are likely to be deployed. A review of this portfolio will be undertaken to assess the suitability of each property and location with the aim, if possible, to rationalise the number of buildings. Key Target: Opportunities will be considered for rationalising space into modern efficient facilities – delivering running cost savings of £0.5m each year.  

That’s from a total budget of £2.4m. Police horses are used at large events of course, so proximity to Wembley might help keep the horses here – perhaps we’ll get more. Having lost the Kings Troop last year, it would be a shame to lose the police horses too, for no other reason than the character they add. And the opportunity for photos like this one taken by Adam Wilson last May.

“Shocking images in West Hampstead as horse
eats policewoman’s head as she withdraws cash”

Goldhurst Terrace assault victim dies

The very sad news broke this morning that the man who was attacked at the end of last month in Goldhurst Terrace has died in hospital.

Douglas Hutchison, 60, who suffered from severe visual impairment, was better known to many by his pseudonym Professor Whitestick. His blog and Twitter account were widely read and his views on the arts held in high regard.

He and I had chatted on Twitter a few times, largely about accessibility issues at West Hampstead’s stations. He was always engaging. I hadn’t realised he lived so close by.

Tributes came in on Twitter, including one from the Royal Academy and another from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Tim Sommer, 18, of no fixed abode, was arrested for the attack in the immediate aftermath. He was originally charged with attempted murder and remanded in custody to reappear in court in February. I understand that the death of Mr Hutchison means that Mr Sommer is likely to be rearrested for murder.

Goldhurst Terrace assault: man arrested

[updated 2.15pm]

Following heavy twitter activity about a major police incident on Goldhurst Terrace yesterday afternoon, it transpires that an 18-year-old German man has been arrested in connection with an unprovoked assault on a 60-year-old man who was found unconscious and is still in a critical condition in hospital. The German may have mental health problems, apparently. He grabbed the pram that is now cordoned off at Kings Gardens and walked up Acol Road in order to avoid being spotted, but was then arrested at Kings Gardens.

There are police cordons around parts of Kings Gardens as well as on Acol Road where the nursery is closed off. Aberdare Gardens, Priory Road and Woodchurch Road were also cordoned off at times and police are still preventing some Goldhurst Terrace residents from entering their homes.

Swiss Cottage ward councillor Don Williams
tweeted this photo of Goldhurst Terrace earlier today

Anyone with information or who witnessed the assault is asked to call Camden Police on 101; if you wish to remain anonymous call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Could West Hampstead police station close?

West Hampstead police station looks certain to lose its front counter, but the murmurings that the whole station is under threat are getting louder.

The Metropolitan Police has engaged in a strange consultation process regarding front counter closures. It can, at best, be described as cursory. A cynic might even interpret it as underhand. “Priority stakeholders” were the only people due to be consulted. Andrew Dismore, the London Assembly Member for Barnet & Camden, is one of these people but, for some reason, it took the borough police a week to find his e-mail address to inform him of the consultation. By that time there were only four days left for him to respond. Even if he had received it in time, it still seems a staggeringly short period of consultation. And why was it so hard for the police to find the e-mail address of an elected representative? (Here’s a hint for them next time).

Andrew Dismore

We all know that public services are being cut back far and wide, and the Met is certainly not exempt. The consultation document (which is a strange two-pager that’s heavy on rationale but light on solutions) explains that the force’s budget need to drop by an eye-watering half a billion pounds by 2015. That isn’t just a lot of money, it’s also a huge chunk of 2011/12’s £2.7 billion budget.

There are 136 police front counters across London, although the consultation paper says that more than a quarter have less than one visitor per hour. Fewer than 50 crimes a night are reported at front counters between 11pm and 7am, and 23 of the 24-hour stations see less than one crime reported every three nights. “They are now primarily staffed by police officers, simply waiting for the public to come to them,” says the paper.

The Met is keen to point out that “This is not about reducing our service but expanding, adapting and changing it for a more modern approach.” I do wonder why it’s not possible for those police officers drumming their fingers on the front desk to perhaps be doing something else while they wait, and maybe someone has to ring a doorbell to be let in, so there’s a drop-in service, but the desk doesn’t have to actually be manned permanently. Surely multi-tasking is possible. (I don’t believe for a minute that police officers aren’t already doing something while they sit and wait).

At Mayor’s Question Time this week, Boris came under sustained fire from Assembly Members, notably Labour’s Dismore and the Lib Dems’ Caroline Pidgeon, who said that 1 in 4 rapes were reported at front counters and was it really reasonable to expect people to report these and other serious crimes in coffee shops. For the consensus is that this is Boris’s big idea: relocate police counters to more accessible locations such as shopping centres. This good ITV news report even moots our very own O2 centre as a possible location as well as showing the Mayor’s response to the questions – he accuses Dismore of “fetishising bricks and mortar”, and says that coffee shops are indeed one avenue that might be pursued.

The grand plan foresees the number of locations where the public can contact the police in person rise from 136 today to up to 270 locations in 2015. In total, 65 front counters will be replaced by more than 200 “Contact Points”, of which seven will be in Camden.

Hampstead police station has already been slated for closure and despite a vocal campaign up in NW3 it’s hard to see that it will be reprieved. Although the consultation document doesn’t expressly mention West Hampstead (in fact the only station named is Holborn which will be the borough’s only 24/7 station), Camden police told Dismore directly:

“The proposals under consultation for Camden are for Holborn front counter to remain open 24 hours and for Kentish Town to be open 40 hour per week. Albany Street, Hampstead and West Hampstead front counters will close and we are looking to create 7 Contact Points across the borough to provide alternative access to policing services.”

That seems pretty clear. It would make our nearest public access station Kentish Town, which is hardly convenient. What is still not clear is whether the whole of West Hampstead police station would close, including the 999 response units. As we all know, West Hampstead also has stables for the mounted police, although this division sits outside the borough structure. According to a letter from Camden’s conservative leader Andrew Mennear in the CNJ back in October, the mounted police would stay while the rest of the police station would close and West Hampstead’s police force would be off to Kentish Town. Even the latest draft of the Neighbourhood Development Plan mentions the police station site as a possible development space.

I’m led to understand by Andrew Dismore’s office that the (seemingly blindingly obvious) idea of turning the small Safer Neighbourhood Team base by the tube station into a front counter is not being considered. So where will locals be able to report crime (or hand in lost property)? The O2 shopping centre strikes me as the most obvious place. The SNT already runs stalls there from time to time, and there is designated community space upstairs. It’s hard to think of anywhere on West End Lane unless there could be co-sharing with the library, or with whatever comes to pass at 156 West End Lane (aka the Travis Perkins building). Mill Lane has more vacant spaces, but none of these solutions are to house a response team. Still, we all know that there’s never any traffic between here and Kentish Tow… oh, yes. Right.

Making savings of £500m is always going to lead to some difficult decisions, but efficiency and cost-effectiveness are surely only part of the equation when it comes to providing emergency service cover. In the meantime, Dismore’s changed his Twitter avatar to one that reads 999SOS – a Labour initiative in City Hall and across London to coordinate objections to the scale and speed of cuts to the police and fire services.

How would you feel about the demise of the front counter at West Hampstead? How about the loss of the whole police station?

Dispersal zone could be extended

Tuesday’s meeting about the proposed West Hampstead dispersal zone was less “drop-in” and more “sit around a table” than I’d been led to believe. As a result, and because the door was locked when I arrived, I missed the start and thus (presumbaly) the set-up and the police’s perspective.

Nevertheless, I was there to hear local residents voice a wide range of disgruntlements with both the council and the police.There was a strong sense that “something had to be done”, with anecdotes of long-standing anti-social behaviour. There was also a recognition that the underlying problems wouldn’t be solved by simply moving people on, but the idea of this short-term measure was broadly welcomed with caveats around appropriate resourcing.

The main problem the police want to deal with is gang activity on the Lithos Road estate, and they see the dispersal zone as a useful tool to help them. The challenge is that dispersal zones often just shift the problem across the border, wherever that border might be. They are also extremely subjective – any group of young people can be dispersed at the whim of the police and are not allowed to return within 24 hours.

Lets take Broadhurst Gardens as an example – the whole road is included in the proposed zone. A group of 22-year-old bankers drinking outside The Gallery could be very noisy, and potentially anti-social. Down the other end of the road by the Broadfield Estate, a group of 18-year-olds could be hanging out one evening with not much else to do, just chatting and with no intention of causing trouble. Which group is more likely to be dispersed?

There appeared to be a strong push to extend the zone across West End Lane to include the Thameslink station – this ended up being stretched to the Maygrove Road/Iverson Road junction including Medley Road.

The blue lines mark the proposed extension

Ultimately, most people seemed to say they supported the zone only if it was extended as described above. Camden’s Michael Hrycak (a Senior Community Safety Officer) explained that extending the zone would delay the process as people living in that area would then need to be consulted. Cllr John Bryant pointed out that there wasn’t much point having a consultation meeting if the input was going to be ignored. It’s not entirely clear how this will proceed – quite possibly by the original zone being put in force and the extension being considered when the zone is reviewed after six weeks or so.

Such reviews are mandatory for dispersal zones. They can lead to prolonged periods of enforcement (a few years for example), or the review might conclude that the impact is negligible or that the problem has been solved. There’s also an issue in that anti-social behaviour tends to be worse in the summer when longer days and warmer nights encourages people to be out later. So, a reduction in ASB may be ascribed to a successful dispersal zone, when it could just be a function of rainy weather and chilly nights.

As soon as I hear more about the implementation of the zone, I’ll report back.

Move along please – nothing to see here

Early Tuesday evening, there’s a drop-in consultation meeting about whether a dispersal zone should be implemented in part of West Hampstead. Whether you’re an arch libertarian or in the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade (or perhaps somewhere inbetween), this is your chance to get your views across.

The idea is to “specifically target the problem of Anti Social Behaviour by youths and related incidents including large scale fights involving weapons, assaults, robbery, drinking alcohol and the use of drugs within the areas highlighted above. It is further aimed at targeting Anti Social Behaviour by groups associated with controlled drug offences on the West Hampstead Ward”

What’s a dispersal zone? Here’s the definition from Local Government.

A dispersal order will provide the police with additional powers to disperse groups of two or more people where the officer has reasonable grounds for believing that their presence or behaviour has resulted, or is likely to result, in a member of the public being harassed, intimidated, alarmed or distressed. Once asked to disperse, it will be a criminal offence for that person to return to the dispersal area for a 24-hour period.
If a young person under the age of 16 is stopped in the area after 9.00 pm and is not accompanied by an adult, the police can escort them to their home address, if they are either:

  • at risk or vulnerable from anti-social behaviour or crime
  • causing, or at risk of causing, anti-social behaviour.

A dispersal zone can be as small as the area surrounding a cash point or as large as an entire open area of a housing estate or row of shops. Once a dispersal order is in place, the escort power can be used against any under-16, but it does not necessarily have to be used at all.

Camden police’s West Hampstead crime map for July 2012 isn’t online yet, but I’ve taken a look back over the past few months to see how many anti-social behaviour crimes have been recorded within the proposed dispersal zone. I also looked back at June 2011.

June 2012 – 35 ASB offences
May 2012 – 27 ASB offences
April 2012 – 42 ASB offences
March 2012 – 28 ASB offences
June 2011 – 16 ASB offences

Such a short time series isn’t that meaningful, although the fact that of these five months, June 2011 was the quietest might suggest that the problem is indeed getting worse although as you can see from both March and April these stats can be skewed by a couple of larger incidents. A dispersal zone was recently put in place the Brent side of Kilburn, and there was one around Swiss Cottage that was renewed several times.

Not everyone agrees with the principle of dispersal zones. Aside from the fact that they can simply push the problem elsewhere, their detractors also argue that they infringe people’s rights. A group of young people hanging out on a street corner are not necessarily intent on causing trouble they may just be hanging out, and perhaps have nowhere else to go. The police of course argue that it makes their job easier.

If you’re interested in learning more about why this dispersal zone is being proposed, or want to have your say, then the meeting is Tuesday 28th August 17.45-19.00 at Hampstead District Housing Office, 156 West End Lane.

Safer Neighbourhoods scam

I got forwarded this e-mail this morning by the (genuine) local Safer Neighbourhoods Team
“People are apparently being contacted over the phone by individuals claiming to be part of the local Safer Neighbourhoods initiative in this area. They state that as a result of recent break-ins they were sending a team around to check on people’s home security and were offering to fit, free of charge, certain home security devices. They said that the people coming to inspect were all ex-police officers.”
The police confirm this is absolutely nothing to do with them or any local Safer Neighbourhoods initiative. It’s unclear whether these are burglars looking to gain access to local properties or unscrupulous businesses selling security devices, but either way, please exercise extreme caution.
You can call the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood Team on 0208 721 2697 or go to the website http://content.met.police.uk/Team/Camden/WestHampstead.

Safer in your Neighbourhood

Want to meet your local coppers? The Fortune Green and West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood teams are holding a public meeting the evening of Wednesday September 21st in the synagogue hall on Dennington Park Rd. Why not go along and say hi (they’re a friendly bunch) and find out the latest on how they’re helping the community. I don’t think you’re expected to stay for two and a half hours!

Have your say

Now it seems that order has been restored to the streets of London after the rioting and looting of a couple of weeks ago, Camden council has set up three public meetings to discuss the borough’s response. Camden Town and Chalk Farm were the worst affected parts of the borough. Nevertheless, as we know, the problems were fairly widespread, with even the relatively calm Kilburn High Road having one shop looted.

The nearest meeting for NW6ers is at Kingsgate Community Centre on September 6th.

On the record with Londonist

On Monday morning I found myself in Hackney Wick – bit out of my usual patch. I was there with @BarnetEye to contribute to the Londonist Out Loud podcast, hosted by the hugely likeable and professional N Quentin Woolf.

It was a strange time to be talking all things London. The riots of Sunday night were of course fresh in everyone’s mind, but we obviously didn’t know that the situation was going to escalate later that day. So, we joined everyone else in speculating wildly about the context. At this stage I didn’t feel I had much to add given that north-west London had yet to feel any effects from the trouble. I would have had a lot more to say had we recorded on Tuesday morning, both about the damage and the social media implications.

The whole experience was fun – oddly, aside from the rioting there wasn’t a lot of other fascinating London news to discuss, but we seemed to cover a fair amount of ground.

If you want to listen to me ramble on riots, blogging, and communities then you can do so.

Largely unscathed

West Hampstead and surrouding areas escaped Monday night’s widespread rioting and looting relatively unscathed. Despite the rumour mill working overtime when it came to Kilburn the actual damage there was limited to the Vodafone shop on the High Road. This was broken into and stock was stolen but apparently the police were on the scene very quickly.

Photo via Mike Katz

The Guardian reported that 20 people had been arrested in Kilburn and it seems that generally whenever there was a crowd gathering, the police dispersed them fairly rapidly. This approach appeared to work well.

As I was tweeting into the early hours of Tuesday, I did feel nervous for the first time as there were reports of groups of young men heading down Adelaide Road towards Swiss Cottage and down Belsize Park in the same direction. I had visions of them coming through West Hampstead to get to Kilburn, or just stopping off in West Hampstead itself.

In the end the impact locally was very limited. The bottom pane of glass at Flower Gallery, the florists by the tube station, had been smashed – which could have happened any night really. By Finchley Road tube, Parkheath estate agents was broken into and their posh iMacs were stolen. I heard today that this wasn’t really a rampage, but was done quite carefully, and I also heard that they chose to install Windows rather than Apple’s operating system, which will surprise the eventual owners.

Photo via @RentalflatsNW6

Anyway, back to the verified facts… the only other casualty in the area was Carphone Warehouse on the corner of Burrard Rd and Finchley Rd, up in the north of West Hampstead. This took a bit of a battering, but that was pretty much it for our part of the world. Real Radio Scotland interviewed a witness.

Photo via @msjlucas

I took a walk through Kilburn on Tuesday morning to check the damage for myself. The Vodafone shop certainly had been hit and there was a police car parked outside and police tape round the entrance. Reports of damage to one of Halfords’ windows were also correct – just a bit late: this had happened a few weeks earlier. Finally, there was some concern when staff were spotted sweeping water and minor debris out of one of the entrances to Poundland, but a quick enquiry revealed that a pipe in the ceiling had burst. Shit happens.

I took another turn through Kilburn mid-afternoon amid rumours that the police presence was increasing and after the Guardian reported that the police were telling shops on the High Road to close. It was a sunny day, and although not as busy as usual, the main drag was still bustly. Some shops were closed, notably TKMaxx, Primark, Phones4U and HSBC. Others, such as Sainsbury’s main store, had strong security on the door. There were no police to be seen. Eventually, I came across four constables heading north on foot patrol and asked one about the instruction to shops. He looked blank and shook his head. He said they weren’t advising shops what to do, although some of course were closing and it was an individual choice.

This was contradicted sometime later by a pub landlord and a member of the public who said he had stood there while a café owner had been advised to close although the timings of these events weren’t clear. Anyway, as the afternoon wore on it became clear that most larger shops were certainly closing earlier than usual. Sainsbury’s obviously had an edict to close its “Local” stores at 6pm, as the shops in Kilburn, West Hampstead and Willesden all shut at the same time.

Despite this, and a distinct tension in the air, West End Lane was busy with people determined to enjoy the good weather, sitting outside the bars and cafés in the evening sun. This wasn’t “normal” though. A police car came hurtling up Lymington Road and swung left on West End Lane. Nothing especially unusual about this, but everyone stopped in their tracks and watched it.

Hopefully, as the atmosphere cools in the capital we won’t have a repeat of Monday night over the next few days.

Live tweeting a quiet night in Kilburn

It’s been a busy evening on Twitter. Naturally, I have a search set up for “Kilburn” in my timeline and from late afternoon it seemed that every other message came from someone suggesting that riots were going to kick off in Kilburn.

It became increasingly hard to determine fact from speculation from deliberate fanning of the flames – whether for fun or for more sinister motives.

Finally, I began to get more convincing sounding reports, many from people I know and trust, that said there wasn’t much happening. It became clear that there was a substantial police presence, and that shops were closing… although it was approaching 6pm, so some were closing anyway. Around 6.30pm someone tweeted that all the banks were closed. No kidding.

There began to be more reports of small groups of young men mooching up and down the road, some with masks. Initially skeptical I refrained from retweeting this, but eventually I was convinced. Several people were doing trawls of the entire High Road to see what was happening – after all Kilburn High Road is a mile long – and reporting that there was no actual trouble. Then there were solid reports that police were stopping some peole and shortly after the Guardian’s Simon Rodgers tweeted that 20 people had been arrested in Kilburn.

I’m willing to trust the Guardian, so lets assume this is true. The Guardian’s rolling riot coverage read:

Kilburn, in north west London, has also seen trouble reports Simon Rodgers. He says there have been 20 arrests near Kilburn High Road. Youths are roaming around the area, Simon says.”

This seemed a fair reflection of the situation, and was clearly chicken feed compared to the serious situation in Hackney, Peckham and Lewisham.

Unfortunately, the Guardian then tweeted this:

Follow LIVE #LondonRiots updates as trouble spreads to #Croydon #Kilburn and #Birmingham http://gu.com/p/3x4he/tw.

Of course this got RTd to death and suddenly perfectly sane people were understandably concerned. Of course the news moved on, nothing at all happened in Kilburn, and the Guardian carried on talking about the serious problems in Croydon and Clapham. Is it too much to expect a follow-up to say that Kilburn was calm? I know the journalists are stretched, so maybe it is too much. This isn’t meant to be a Guardian-bashing post anyway. But it’s indicative of the challenge journalists and responsible tweeters/bloggers have in trying to be up-to-date with events while not falling for seductive sounding “breaking news” tweets. People like to give their false reports authenticity… “my aunt says…” “a colleague rang me to say…”, etc. But it’s fairly easy to weed those out.

Harder to unravel were those messages from people I know who hear something from someone they know and – in a commendable effort to be helpful – ping me to keep me up to speed. With so many people tweeting though, one isolated report without a picture is to be taken with a large pinch of salt. In every single case, further investigation revealed that the reported fact simply wasn’t true. Many were either misunderstandings, or nuance was lost in the brevity of Twitter, or it was the product of over-active imaginations. But each one gets retweeted, especially when it’s written by someone with a lot of followers, before there’s a chance to contradict it and the whole thing starts again.

Part of me wonders whether it’s worth doing this – I’m under no illusion that fighting (with some very able allies – thanks to Julius_Geezer in particular) all the misinformation has any impact on what might happen, but it does seem worthwhile to allay people’s genuine fears.

More importantly, I would much rather be spending an evening trying to counter some misinformation than writing about looting, arson and general thuggery in the neighbourhood. In the parlance of the day, stay classy Kilburn.

West Hampstead & Fortune Green area action group

On a cold Monday evening, Liberal Democrat councillor Keith Moffitt (West Hampstead) kicked off the first combined area action group meeting. This is the successor to the local area forums. All six of the local councillors were present (all Lib Dems).

The audience – around 80 people, the vast majority being older members of the community – settled down as Keith mentioned that they had publicised the event on Twitter and on the two local blogs. He asked if anyone except me had come because they had seen it promoted online. No-one had.

A man behind me said sotto voce “Twitter is one of the most ridiculous pointless things I’ve ever heard of”. I wondered whether he’d ever even seen it. Keith introduced me, which I wasn’t quite expecting, but I sensed only mild curiosity rather than active interest.

There was a really quick rundown of projects funded by the £10,000 per ward improvement fund (inevitably that isn’t being offered again). These included two new benches (Agememnon Rd/Ulysses Rd and top of Fortune Green Rd); a “give-and take” event at Emmanuel School in March; new dog/litter bins and hanging baskets on Mill Lane.

One project – improvements to the paved area around the library – has yet to happen, but it is still being planned. A plan to use Mill Lane Bridge as a community art project had to be shelved due to health & safety concerns apparently.

Thameslink station
The session kicked off with a team from the Thameslink programme bringing us up to speed on the developments at West Hampstead Thameslink station. They had a powerpoint presentation that no-one could read, which was ill-thought out. The headline news is that the platforms will be ready for the longer 12-carriage trains by December 2011, but the new trains won’t be fully installed until 2015.

The plans for the station on Iverson Road have had to be adapted to bring it within budget. The changes are largely in materials although it’s clear that the initial plans were on the ambitious side. The station is also due for completion in December 2011.

As you all know, the pavement is being substantially widened on the north side of Iverson Road. The existing embankment is being built up and paved, and this should alleviate some of the congestion between the stations.

The design of the wall running from West End Lane to the station has been adjusted – and will now be a flat wall rather than with “profiled bricks”. There’s been an invisible change to some water flow issue and the zinc roof is becoming aluminium, so will look different from above but not from ground level (makes you wonder why they went for zinc in the first place).

Finally, the sedum roof (i.e. the one covered in greenery) is being replaced by a separate larger area of grass at ground level.

All the construction materials will now be delivered trackside and not by road, so there shouldn’t be road congestion. The timetable is also designed to ensure that work takes place on weekdays during working hours.

There were plenty of audience questions, and rather a lot of talking at cross-purposes. Someone pointed out that with all the street clutter outside Starbucks, Costa etc., this was still a pinch point. Keith explained there would be a sizeable project in 2011 to widen West End Lane pavements, and that tackling this issue would be part of the January phase of that (the plan is for work to be done up the west side of WEL and then back down the east side. Expect more traffic disruption for most of next year then).

There was another question about how a car club has procured more spaces than it had apparently bid for, which went unanswered, and one woman appeared disproportionately angry that the pavement had been widened on both side of the street without consultation. Keith said he thought this might just have been a lack of clarity on the diagrams, to which she replied rather ominously, “Lets hope for your sake it is”.

There was a more measured question about lighting. Network Rail explained that there will be strip downlighting all along the wall between West End Lane and the station, and the footbridge will also be lit. This should minimize glare for residents, while ensuring enough light for safety.

The existing station on the north side of the bridge will close, and there will be ticket barriers under a weatherproof shelter there that will be manned (or left open). There will also be ticket machines.

Strangely, despite the longer platforms, there is no provision for extra platform signage. Given the frequent platform changes and running delays on the service, the information boards are of course very useful, but clearly they won’t be visible from further along. Roger Perkins, the communications manager for the Thameslink Programme, said he would look into this and that there may be some other sources of funding available. It seems crazy to extend platforms and not think about extra signage.

Roger then explained the service improvements. As was announced last week (and mentioned on my weekly round-up) the Thameslink programme survived the spending review but the completion date has been pushed back from 2016 to 2018. This drew inevitable groans.

The new trains won’t appear until 2015 (although there will be a few longer trains in service from the end of 2011 using leased carriages) but even then very few if any will stop at West Hampstead. Priority for the extra capacity will go to the fast commuter trains from Bedford that are fast from St Albans. Most of the trains that stop at West Hampstead head down to the Wimbledoon loop, where many of the stations can’t be extended.

It began to dawn on everyone that we’re enduring quite a lot of disruption for not much immediate benefit. Eventually of course, more longer trains will be rolled out and services that do not go down to Wimbledon will use them. The major benefit to locals will be that there will be new routes opening up beyond the Bedford-Brighton/Sutton services, but these routes are yet to be decided.

Roger also said that 5,000 seats had already been added to rush hour trains – but again, not necessarily to services stopping at West Hampstead.

Appropriately, Keith now announced that we were now running 20 minutes late.

Policing
Seargeant Dave Timms of the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood Team spoke very briefly and wanted some input/feedback on how best the SNTs might be deployed. As he explained, they were suffering from funding restrictions like everyone else so they are very open to hearing how the public would like them to operate and whether the current organisation (where they are strictly ward-based) was appropriate. You can contact the team here.

Shopping
New West Hampstead councillor Gillian Risso-Gill then discussed the issue of shops on West End Lane and Mill Lane. This is a emotive issue, as we know from the response to the “Changing Streetscape” blog from August.

She argued that West End Lane was faring relatively well in the aftermath of the recession, with very few units remaining empty for long. Glo of course being an exception and Mill Lane showing a more mixed picture. She argued that Tesco can live alongside independent shops and helps increase footfall. This met with a mixed reaction from the crowd.

Apparently, no-one other than Sainsbury’s had expressed any interest in the Best-One site. She also said that Penguin – the vintage boutique opposite the Overground station – is closing due to retirement rather than for financial reasons.

The main thrust of her talk was that we should look at other avenues for smaller retailers, such as markets. There was notable vocal support for a farmers market, although the issue of where it would be is tricky. The Christmas market, which is very clearly a retail opportunity and not a ‘festival’, will be on West End Green, but this is probably not big enough for a full-scale farmers market.

Someone asked what happened to the market that used to be at the O2 car park, which has moved to Eton Avenue (perhaps not realising that the car park solution was in fact temporary and the market was originally in Swiss Cottage).

A woman who works at West End Lane Books argued that the lack of parking was a big problem and stopped people from coming to West End Lane. This wasn’t especially well received by the councillors. Surely, if we’re trying to get local people to local shops then they can walk or use buses? It’s very hard to see much being done to increase parking in the area.

A more sophisticated issue is that of rates and rents and planning use. One local businessman said he knew of two chain restaurants that were actively looking to move into the area, but wouldn’t say which.

He also said he’d heard a rumour that M&S was going to take the Pizza Express site. This is an extension of the rumour a while back that Sainsbury’s was going to take that site, which a Pizza Express spokesperson categorically refuted when I put it to them earlier in the year. I am not convinced that site would work for M&S, but we shall see.

“Multiples” (as chains are called in the business) do of course bring footfall, but they can also afford to pay top whack in terms of rents, which raises the baseline level on the street, squeezing out smaller players. The audience member cited examples where rents had rocketed from £28,000 to £43,000 with change of use and suggested that the planning department could do more to control these changes of use.

Someone suggested whether Camden could turn a unit into a sort of permanent pop-up shop, allowing rotating use of the space. The idea was well received, but Keith pointed out that the council doesn’t own any units on West End Lane. Whether they could enquire/put pressure on landlords of empty units when they are available remains to be seen.

Not surprisingly, the issue of Tesco (and soon Sainsbury’s) delivery lorries came up. Fortune Green councillor Flick Rea explained that the Tesco on her patch had been expected to use a delivery point at the back of the building but it turned out the lorries couldn’t access this service area because it was too low. She is looking at getting a delivery bay built into the street as there is room there.

The West End Lane Tesco remains a problem as the company sees the constant parking fines as simply part of the cost of doing business.

A man from Fawley Road asked what he admitted was a NIMBY question about where Sainsbury’s delivery lorries would park. Flick said that she hoped it would be possible to have a conversation with Sainsbury’s about this, as they were more socially amenable than Tesco.

Budget cuts
The final topic of the evening was the budget cuts in Camden. By the time you read this, these will have been debated in the council chamber, and at this stage the programme of cuts is light on detail. Keith pointed out before the discussion started that legally this couldn’t be a party-political discussion as it is funded by the council*.

Given that much of this was hypothetical I shall keep this section short and wait until the budget plans have been approved for a longer discussion of how cuts will affect West Hampstead.

The nub of the issue is that Camden needs to cut £80 to £100 million of its budget, which is approximately 10%. Councils of course have statutory commitments and discretionary roles. Camden historically has been a council that has prided itself on going the extra mile but inevitably some of these discretionary services would have to be cut or provided by the voluntary or private sectors.

Keith also pointed out that there would be job cuts: 1,000 positions would go although many would happen through early retirement or posts not being filled rather than redundancies. However, plenty of jobs are on the line.

Libraries are one service that always receives a lot of publicity. It seems inevitable that some Camden libraries will close. Keith seemed reasonably confident that West Hampstead would not be one of them. However, whether it can remain in its current state is not clear. It is expensive to run (behind me a voice whispered authoritatively that it costs £290,000 a year to run WH library of which half is staff costs).

There was some confusion as to whether the mobile library service had already been cut or not. A tweet the following day from Camden suggested that it hadn’t been cancelled just yet and Alan Templeton from the Camden Public Libraries User Group (CPLUG) seemed to think that nothing had been definitively decided. However, he also believed that council officers had already decided which libraries were for the chop, suggesting Belsize, Chalk Farm and Highgate as the most likely casualties. He argued that no library was safe however, and locals should definitely adopt a “use it or lose it” attitude.

Other conversations discussed community centres and children’s services/play services. Keith mentioned the rebuilding/expansion of Emmanuel School, which has been discussed at length already. The issue of whether the possible new primary school on Liddell Road is the best location was also mentioned but not discussed.

And that was that. Not everyone had stayed to the end, and most scarpered off into the dark cold night as soon as the meeting was brought to a close. Surprisingly, no-one asked anything about the proposed student accommodation, although Keith mentioned it and there was a handout about it.

*unlike the conversation after the meeting drew to a close.

West Hampstead Digest No.12 – Review of the (er…) “Year”

Back in October, when @WHampstead had already been around for a good few months, it seemed like a good idea to take some of your messages and photos and aggregate them into a weekly round-up of the week’s whampevents. Encouraged by some excitement that week, Digest 1 went to press on October 11, the week that the leafy streets of West Hampstead were rocked by gun crime. Choosing the lead story for Week 1 was as easy as bumping into Ken Livingstone on the morning commute into work.

Week 2 was momentous thanks to the inaugural whampgather. I won’t lie. I was a wee bit nervous as I walked up to The Alice House. I didn’t think that nobody would come, but I wasn’t at all sure it was going to be a hit. My fears were swiftly allayed. A real big thank you to those of you that turned up that night and made it such a success. Of course one notable West Hampstead tweeter was absent but delightfully made up for it with a message that evening.

One of the long-running stories of the year was the power cuts that knocked out large chunks of the area with alarming frequency. EDF claims it is working on the problem, which involves a local substation, but the problem is big enough that it has its own hashtag now.

The billboards around the tube and train stations have prompted an unusual flurry of comments. Most recently, Tory PPC Chris Philp’s cherubic face has beamed down on us, but earlier in the year it was the typos in the adverts for Alfred Court that caught the eye. After getting it wrong first time, one might have thought that all efforts would be made to get the replacement sign right. One might have thought.

Whampers once again found that there was no local fireworks display – the Primrose Hill display having been cancelled many years ago due to health and safety concerns. Somehow the message hasn’t sunk in.

Travel problems have been the cause of most of the gnashing of teeth among Whamp tweeters. And it’s not just been the Jubilee Line. Thameslink commuters, already coping with the long-running line improvement works encountered a whole new problem in mid-November.

Week 6 also saw whampers undertake the first whampreview at the Czech Restaurant. Perhaps the less said about it the better.

Later in November there was a major breakthrough for tweeters living around Willesden Green when Brent MP Sarah Teather’s lobbying bore fruit and the Metropolitan Line stopped at the tube station when the Jubilee Line was closed. Hurrah.

A topic that always generates a surprising amount of interest is the opening and closing of new shops. Broadhurst Gardens was a veritable hub of retail comings and goings at the end of the month, with an eclectic mix of shops opening.

December brought the second whampgather – another roaring success, with a three-fold increase in attendees. Sadly, not all loyal whampers were able to make it. Their loss, some might say!

Bursting the bubble of whampeuphoria was news of the farcical Jubilee Line engineering works. TfL and its contractor Tube Lines played the blame game while passengers look like suffering.

In the run-up to the holiday season, we were all dreaming of a whamp Christmas and lo and behold, the white stuff began to fall. One short simple message captured everyone’s ambivalence to snow: yes, we love to wake up to a blanket of white; no, we don’t like to have to actually deal with it on a workday.

Finally, the Christmas edition of Digest threw a crossword at readers. Some attempted but only one succeeded. Congratulations to @bubela, who will be getting a free cappuccino. Here’s the solution.

So that was @WHampstead in 2009. Roll on 2010. The Year of the Whamp.

West Hampstead Digest No.1 Local news where you set the agenda

(for a one-page PDF version: click here)

Live coverage of Hemstal handgun drama
Crime was the big story of the week, following Tuesday’s gun drama on the streets of West Hampstead. Tweeting from the scene were @medcabnath (whose photo is below) and @2muchcoffeekate.
BBC Travel confirmed the road closure but, as the excitement wound down, residents still weren’t entirely sure what had happened. It wasn’t until later in the week that we got updates from BBC News, the Camden New Journal, and the Ham & High.
All the drama led to an exchange the next morning over the crime rate in West Hampstead. @WHConservatives said crime in the area was on the rise. When @Whampstead challenged this stance (which one person had criticized as “spreading fear“), the local Tories pointed out that burglary and theft from cars were both higher in West Hampstead than in neighbouring areas.

The Met’s statistics, available here, show that they are right. However, it seems misleading to suggest that West Hampstead is a “high-crime” area, relative to this part of London. This blog entry looks into the issue in more detail. The text of the police’s appeal is here.

Being the urbane bunch we are, not everyone was too fazed by the developments and quips about bulletproof vests for the commute home abounded. The pick of the bunch, however, was from @2muchcoffeeforkate, one of the on-site tweeters. #whampcrime

West Hampstead Whinges
A burst water main on the Kilburn High Road wreaked havoc on travel plans.

Of course the flooding was a problem for local businesses too, but not all handled it as well as some of you might have hoped for.

None of this is new, as this article from 2005 reminds us. Mind you, given that the word “Kilburn” derives from the name of the stream that runs beneath it (now the River Westbourne), flooding in these parts probably dates back to the days before there were even water mains to burst. #whamptravel

We’ve got the Ex-Factor
NW6 was left reeling by the news that X-Factor finalists are no longer housed in the area. They were here: But no longer will they slurp their coffee in Caffé West as the news broke that the house this year is in Golders Green. @emma_marion used that terrible few hours when twitter froze to do some sleuthing.
Fans had already tracked down the property and there were photos in the press the next day of the place being beseiged by fans. The police now have to spend resources controlling people like this person who fruitlessly begged @WHampstead for the location.

However, @KateTheIrish1 told us that contestants used to drink in the Railway. Perhaps the wannabees have come home to roost. #whexfactor

Whampgather in Whonderland
The Alice House is the venue for the first ever local tweetup, which takes place on Monday evening. With a competition and free drinks, it promises to be a social event to rival Henley or Ascot. See you all there.

New to the neighbourhood
It‘s not new to West Hampstead, but popular restaurant The Wet Fish Café is new to Twitter. You can keep up to date by following @TheWetFishCafe. #whampnew

Photo of the week
@gitfinger claims he was “having an Elton John moment

Calculating Criminals

If you live around West Hampstead, you’ll know that it feels fairly safe around here. Of course, we’re still in an inner-London borough and it’s not as if you’d leave you front door open but I never worry about personal attacks here any more than I would anywhere else.

This is why the news earlier in the week of armed men running through the leafy streets of West Hampstead in broad daylight came as such a surprise. The BBC, Camden New Journal and the Ham & High all reported the story (even the Daily Mail covered it), which was tweeted live by some my followers.

In the wake of this story, the West Hampstead Conservative Group posted a message on twitter saying crime was a “serious issue” in West Hampstead, later clarifying that “burglary rates and car vehicle theft rates are higher in proportion to other areas in the immediate vicinty.”

A visit to the Metropolitan Police’s website confirms this statistic. But statistics are funny things. It’s possible to cut stats in all manner of ways.

To start with, only Westminster has a worse crime rate of the Met’s boroughs. Camden’s poor performance is largely due to its central London wards of Holborn and Bloomsbury, together with the well-known problems of Camden Town. Compared to these hotspots, West Hampstead fares well but they are hardly a good benchmark. Of Camden’s 18 wards, West Hampstead has the 9th lowest crime rate. Of course the West Hampstead ward does not equate exactly with the area people think of as “West Hampstead”. The other local wards in Camden are Fortune Green (2nd lowest), parts of Swiss Cottage (6th lowest) and Kilburn (14th lowest/5th highest).

Lets look at different types of crime, specifically those that are crimes against people: personal robbery and violent crimes. I accept (and know from personal experience) that burglaries and thefts are unpleasant experiences for the victims. We should work hard to minimize these crimes, but they are part and parcel of living in a big city. I am far more concerned with robbery and violent crime, which would make me feel unsafe walking around the area.

In August 2009, there was one personal robbery in the West Hampstead ward. In fact, it ranked as the second safest ward in the borough on this measure. Taking a longer perspective, we can see that after a big drop in robberies from 2006/7 to 2007/8 of 55 to 30, there was a rise in 2008/9 to 34. For violent crimes, West Hampstead is the 6th lowest of the 18 wards, with both Fortune Green and Swiss Cottage ranking lower. As with robberies, there was a big dip in reported violent crimes from 06/07 to 07/08, before a small increase in 08/09. Both the Brent and Camden sides of the Kilburn High Road all ranked worse for violent crime in August 2009, and this has held true for the past three years.

Rather than dissecting the statistics every which way, one guide to the crime problems in the area is to look at the Safer Neighbourhood teams’ priorities. For West Hampstead they are burglary and motor vehicle crime. Fortune Green adds anti-social behaviour to these priorities. Kilburn’s priorities are motor vehicle crime and anti-social behaviour by groups of youths, and finally, Swiss Cottage has those two, plus burglary.

So, what does all this tell us. Crime rates are rising in Camden, unsurprising in a recession. However, West Hampstead is a long way from being a crime hotspot and in terms of personal safety, it still “feels” safe, which is important for quality of life.

What do you think? How concerned are you about crime in West Hampstead?