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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”.

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.

goody_final_lg

Local filmmaker sheds light on Great Train Robbery mystery

Simon Howley, a West Hampstead film maker, has spent two years producing a new documentary about the Great Train Robbery.

A Tale of Two Thieves features interview footage with one of the last surviving gang members, Douglas Gordon Goody, now 85 years old and living in Spain. He reminisces about the notorious 1963 robbery that shocked the nation. More than £2.6 million was stolen (the equivalent of almost £50 million today), and the train driver was badly beaten.

Simon, who has lived in West Hampstead for 20 years, travelled regularly to Spain during the production of the film to meet Goody and gradually built up a relationship with him. It wasn’t the original plan. “We set out to make a TV series about a rock legend, which never happened, but through our meeting with his management team we were introduced to Gordon Goody.”

Film producer Simon Howley (right) with Douglas Gordon Goody

Film producer Simon Howley (right) with Douglas Gordon Goody

Through meetings with Goody, the truth behind another kind of legend was uncovered – the identity of the man known only as “The Ulsterman”, the insider who passed vital information to the rest of the gang that enabled them to carry out the robbery. Goody broke a 50-year silence to name The Ulsterman as postal worker Patrick McKenna. The film production team hired a private detective to track down and identify the man in an attempt to piece together the missing elements of the story. It turned out McKenna had died some years earlier.

Simon says he and his team were not initially drawn to the project, thinking that the Great Train Robbery had been covered so many times that it was “old hat”; but upon meeting Goody “we realised that there was actually lots of life left in the story and a very strong new angle – first naming and then finding the mysterious insider.”

The film’s UK release was last Friday. No local screenings are slated as yet, but the documentary is available to buy on DVD from Amazon, or look out for it when it airs on TV in the new year.

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Site of Lion Gararge, corner of Greville Rd and Kilburn High Road

“I only meant to stun him” – A 1930s Kilburn murder

On 12 May 1937, the whole country was excited when George VI was crowned King after the abdication of his brother Edward VIII. Two days later at 4.30 am, a taxi driver went to buy petrol at the Lion Service Station at the corner of Greville Road and Kilburn High Road – Today, the site of the garage lies under the block of flats next to the new Kilburn Library.

Site of Lion Gararge, corner of Greville Rd and Kilburn High Road

Site of Lion Gararge, corner of Greville Rd and Kilburn High Road

Entering the office, the taxi driver was horrified to find George Cotton, the night attendant, slumped on the floor with blood streaming from his head. He called a policeman and George was taken to Paddington Hospital. George, who had served in the Royal Army Service Corps in WWI, didn’t regain consciousness, dying the next day and unable to tell anyone what had happened. He had been living with his wife Ethel at 94 Alexandra Road. She sobbed bitterly at the inquest, confirming George was unable speak to her at the hospital.

The police began a major hunt for the murderer, issuing descriptions of three men and a request for information about a blood-stained wheel spanner found at the garage. £16 and 10 shillings had been taken from the till, worth about £850 today. But the trail appeared cold until Allan Gregory walked into West Hampstead Police Station, (then a few doors away from the Railway Hotel on West End Lane).

Allan was interviewed by Detective Inspector Isaac Spash of New Scotland Yard and admitted that he’d killed George Cotton. Spash was a career detective who had joined the Metropolitan Police in 1914 and worked his way up to be the Divisional Inspector at Golders Green.

Allan was a 35-year-old motor mechanic from Maygrove Road who’d needed cash badly. So in the early hours of Saturday night he’d gone to the other end of Kilburn to ask his friend George Cotton if he could lend him some money, as he’d done before. When Allan got to the service station he found George asleep in the chair behind the desk. Allan said:

I watched him for several minutes and he was not disturbed. I thought the till would be full because of Coronation time, the temptation was too great for me and I found a screwdriver and forced the till open. The noise of the drawer snapping open disturbed George and I ducked down so that he would not see me. After waiting until he settled down I picked up a spanner, when George turned and looked at me. I dashed forward and took the money from the till. George started moving again. I got into a panic because I did not want George to see me and I hit him with the spanner. He fell out of the chair onto the floor. I had no intention of killing him; I went there to borrow money. When I hit him I only meant to stun him. I lost my head and slashed out at him, not realising what I was doing. I have known George for a number of years, the last thing I wanted to do was kill or seriously injure him.

Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the eminent pathologist who conducted the post mortem, said that George Cotton had died from three violent blows to the head with a heavy weapon which had badly smashed his skull. After 20 minutes the jury at the Old Bailey on the 19 July found Gregory not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.