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Police “taken by surprise” by explosion in phone thefts

There was a good turnout at last night’s public meeting on moped-crime. It’s a hot topic that didn’t need any extra emphasis, but even as the meeting was taking place another moped-based phone snatch was happening taking place outside Finchley Road tube station.

Good turnout and good discussion – it’s a serious issue.

The first speaker, Judy Thomson, is a public safety officer from Camden, who spoke about how the council is trying to tackle the problem at its source by working with disaffected young people in the borough, although with fewer resources than they would like. This involves work on estates, working with the local police and sometimes involves CCTV camera. I had the impression that CCTV was rather cumbersome and limited given the scale of the problem.

Cllr Flick Rea asked about the ‘broken windows theory’, which suggests that something relatively minor like a rise in litter leads to low-level anti-social behavior which then leads to worse. Judy agreed and replied that they absolutely challenge unacceptable behaviour, for example, fly-tipping.

The second speaker was Inspector Richard Berns, who is in charge of neighbourhood policing in Camden. He’s only been in the post for six weeks, as has he has just transferred from Hammersmith and Fulham, before that he was at Harrow Road after seven years in Hackney. However, he knows West Hampstead well as apparently he had a paperround here 25 years ago!

He was refreshingly frank and said that that the problem had “exploded” and that the growth “has taken us a bit by surprise”. Worryingly, more thefts are getting violent – as the arrests earlier this week in Broomsleigh St following the fatal stabbing in Little Venice confirm.

Moped-enabled crime is a problem throughout central London, but Camden (with 4,147 incidents) and Islington (with 3,587 incidents) are the worst affected boroughs though – whatever our perception – the robberies are very much concentrated in the south of the borough. Earlier this year, Camden and Islington forces merged and given the scale of the problem, extra resources are being put behind the issue, with an additional two dedicated two officers bring the team (‘Operation Attrition’) up to thirty. Of course it is at the fore-front of every officer’s mind at the moment. Despite the rise in crime, we can still expect further cuts in police numbers, although Inspector Berns said “these would be due to natural wastage”.

One audience member asked if road checks would help contain the issue but Inspector Berns was skeptical, suggesting that the criminals would simply avoid them and drive away. The mopeds they use are stolen and are seen as being practically disposable by the criminals. Once they are stolen any identifying marks are filed down and number plates removed. Look out for mopeds with no number plates then.

There was some cynicism in the audience about whether it was even worth calling the police to report crime. One audience member, Simon Benson, was recently mugged, had his wallet stolen and – thanks to his driving licence (and address) being in his wallet, had his car stolen too. The police response was to close the file just 53 minutes after he reported the crime. Inspector Berns agreed this was very poor service, “It was just not good enough”.

Inspector Berns was frank and honest about the scale of the problem.

Berns also confessed that calling 101 – the non-emergency number – is “not very good at the moment” and he was unaware that it is not a free call (it costs 15p per call, the money goes to the telecom companies, not the government). He said that he thinks some crimes don’t get reported as members of the public give up. Another way of reporting low-level stuff was to tweet @Metcc, the Met’s contact centre (8am-10pm).

He dismissed the myth that the police are not allowed to chase suspects, although he clarified that it does depend on the severity of the crime. The stabbing this week was met with a heavy and successful response. He was also asked whether crimes were actually investigated or not and bluntly said, “If they solvable then we will, if not solvable we won’t”.

iPhone users are most at risk from theft – they account for two-thirds of stolen phones, and the problem could get worse with the iPhone X as this will retail for more than £1,000. Even with anti-theft technology the screen alone will be worth £400 so a stolen phone could be used for parts. There is however, no typical profile of a theft victim.

How can you protect yourself?
An obvious simple step is to listen out for the sound of mopeds approaching, they make a distinctive sound. If you see someone standing outside a station looking at their phone, remind them of the risk. Avoid using your phone in public as you walk along and could be vulnerable, and make sure your phone is backed up and secured.

Cllr Russell – herself a recent victim of a break-in – questioned Inspector Berns on local crime figures, which show an apparent year-on-year rise of 38% in Fortune Green and 28% in West Hampstead. Inspector Burns said this was inline with his figures that showed crime figures in Camden and Islington were up 28%, with a national increase of 13%. Nor are these just petty crimes, serious crime is also on the up – and Berns pointed out that for most of his career crime has fallen, so this is new territory for many in the police.

Odd then, perhaps, that the Safer Neighbourhood office on West End Lane will close, as the lease will not be renewed in 2019. But the teams will apparently be moving into West Hampstead police station on Fortune Green Road.

The evening ended with a good point from WHAT chair Mary Tucker, who reflected that TfL is removing ‘countdown’ displays from bus stops as people are now encouraged to check the times on their phones. In public, by the road. Just as we’re telling people to keep their phones hidden. This chimed with an earlier observation that the police and local authorities are looking at putting in bollards and street furniture on estates and alleyways to act as an obstruction, despite having just taken it away to ‘de-clutter’ the streetscape.

Inspector Berns confirmed that crime is on the rise. It is still, as Cllr Olszewski pointed out, relatively low but in our local area we have gone quickly from below the London average to being the average (and the average is rising). Last night was a well organised and well-chaired meeting. It was good to have councillors, the police, local residents all in one room because it is only by working together that we can tackle this. Inspector Berns was refreshingly honest and frank, and perhaps more importantly, came across as competent. He too was pleased with how the meeting went. Let us hope that some increased vigilance from locals and continued work by the police can bring this mini crime wave to an abrupt end.

Crime tops the agenda at upcoming public meeting

Mobile phone snatches on the rise. Image: Unsplash

This Thursday, local councillors will host an Area Forum (aka: public meeting) at the Synagogue Hall in Dennington Park Road. Crime is top of the agenda. The meeting starts at 19:00 with the main business from 19:30.

Last night two suspects were arrested in Broomsleigh Street following a moped-related stabbing that had taken place earlier last night in Little Venice.  The victim, a 28 year old charity worker, was stabbed when he resisted an attempt to snatch his iPhone 7. He was taken to St. Mary’s hospital, but died an hour later.

Mobile phones continue to be snatched by guys on mopeds in West Hampstead (though the problem is far from confined to NW6). This week saw incidents on West End Green, as kids were coming out of Emmanuel School. Last Wednesday on Westbere Road as a woman was parking her car, her mobile was snatched as she was allegedly threatened with a weapon (it wasn’t clear whether it was a machete or an iron bar, but either way it’s extremely worrying).

On Saturday there was another incident on West End Lane at the junction of Cleve Road. The victim was walking alone down West End Lane at around 6.30pm, texting as she walked. When she reached the junction with Cleve Road two men on mopeds appeared and tried to snatch the phone out of her hand. It was dark and happened so quickly that she didn’t get a good description of them. She was shaken but blames herself partly because she knew it was a danger but still had her phone out. Yet it doesn’t feel right that you can’t walk safely around your own neighbourhood.

She didn’t realise that she could (and should) report this to the police, which can be done online. It is really important that this is done so that the police can build up a true picture.

These incidents follow the recent robbery at the busy Sherriff Centre Post Office by three masked guys, also on mopeds. A robbery that took place less than 50m away from the Safer Neighbourhoods office.

The rise in mobile phone snatching has replaced the spate of car thefts and burglaries earlier this summer. It’s hard to tell categorically from the figures, but it does seems that – as we suggested in August – crime is on the rise after years of falling. Hopefully, it is just a blip.

The Conservatives have been rather quiet on the matter, although Claire-Louise Leyland, leader of the local Tories, called a meeting in Hampstead last month. Labour has been suggesting that a combination of police cuts and austerity are at least partly to blame.

It is hard to believe in the face of all this there is a ‘consultation’ on closing the Safer Neighbourhoods office. We should find out more details at Thursday’s meeting.

The main speaker on Thursday will be Inspector Richard Berns from Camden Neighbourhood Policing Teams, alongside Judy Thomson Camden Community Safety.

It doesn’t really need me to say it, but I’m going to say it anyway. Please come along, at worst to find out how to protect yourself to prevent it happening to you. But also because the more residents turn up the more likely we are to get the resources we need to start tackling this issue.

PS:( ‘Locksmith’ stickers have appeared on letterboxes and by front doors (including Cllr Russell’s who was recently the victim of a burglary). They could be related to burglaries and the advice is to remove them.

Two arrested in moped incident on Broomsleigh Street

Residents of Broomsleigh Street were woken in the middle of the night by the sound of police helicopters and cars in action. The police were chasing two suspects on a moped who had been involved in a mobile snatch earlier in the night, that had involved a stabbing. The suspects were 17 and 18 years old.

Man being arrested at the incident last night. Picture: @leocodron

Shortly before midnight a 28-year-old man was stabbed and killed as he resisted when attackers tried to snatch his iPhone outside his flat in Little Venice. It is believed the two incidents are related.

The suspects were cornered at the Black Path entrance on Broomsleigh Street and arrested. Sniffer dogs and forensic teams searched the area at night, looking under cars for evidence. This morning Broomsleigh street was still closed off as a crime scene, with a moped still on site. The moped was later taken away with officers from the Pulsar unit expected this lunchtime for further investigation in the search for traces of blood.

Police officers on at the scene commented that moped thefts are a big problem at the moment with up to 30 incidents a night in Camden alone. On Thursday 19th there will be a public meeting to discuss moped related crime and advice on how to stay safe, taking place in the Synagogue Hall.

Who buried the body? The sad tale of “The Kilburn Mystery”

Pembroke Place was a cul-de-sac of four-roomed houses off Granville Road in South Kilburn. It has long been demolished – today the St Augustine’s sports centre occupies roughly the same site. In the early 20th century, it was described as a mean and congested neighbourhood, where domestic violence often erupted. The properties were so small they were sometimes referred to as cottages and they were home to an endless succession of poor families. But even here, people were shocked by the skeleton under the floor.

Granville Road showing Pembroke Mews in Red 1890

Granville Road showing Pembroke Mews in Red 1890

In late July, 1919, Henry Hill – the tenant of No.12 Pembroke Place – became concerned about the foul smell in the house and found bones and a skull buried under the kitchen floor. The press immediately called the discovery ‘The Kilburn Mystery’. Initially it was believed there were two bodies and Sir Bernard Spilsbury, a pathologist who first came to public notice during the 1910 Crippen trial, was called in. Unfortunately the police removed some valuable evidence before Spilsbury arrived, but he soon identified the bones as those of a single young female.

Almost immediately, neighbours told the police they knew who it was. They believed the remains were those of sixteen-year-old Constance Grant, known to friends and family as Connie.

William John Grant and Alice Maud White, had occupied the house for just over a year before leaving that January. What unfolded over the next few weeks was a tragic story of neglect, poverty and cover-up.

William was born in London and worked as a labourer, but by 1919 he was employed as a boiler cleaner in a gas works. In 1888 he had married laundry worker Rosina Pyle. She died in 1907 and a year later William met widow Alice White. The couple decided to live together as common law partners. Between them the couple already had 12 children: William had eight and Alice four, and they went on to have another five children together. Their youngest was Doris. William and Alice were living in 12 Pembroke Place by Christmas 1917, sharing the small house with their own children and also Ada and Connie Grant, William’s daughters by his first wife. There were reports of quarrels, and some physical violence.

In January 1919, William and Alice separated. He moved in with a married daughter in Harlesden while Alice and the five children born to the couple, eventually ended up sharing two rooms with her daughter Ethel May (known as Maggie) at 16 Malvern Road, just a few minutes walk from Pembroke Place.

After the bones were found, an excited neighbour’s child ran round to Malvern Road and told Alice: “They are saying you murdered two children and buried them under the floor!” To which Alice replied, “They will have to prove that”. Alice promptly dressed herself and young Doris and went out with her friend Sara Harris. Sara said Alice intended to pawn a watch or neck chain for money, to pay for a meal that evening. Alice left Sara in the Harrow Road but didn’t return home.

The police were naturally very anxious to speak with Alice and circulated a description:

Alice White, also known by the names of Grant and Watts. 42 years old, around 5 foot 5 inches tall, dark complexion, dark eyes, full face, and medium build. Last seen with a black hat, wearing a long light-coloured overcoat and carrying a baby about two years old.

Clearly wanting to contribute something to the mystery, Sara Harris told reporters that on the day, Alice “seemed all of a flutter”. She also said Alice had told her she had found Connie dead.

With the exception of the absent Alice, everyone was questioned by the police as soon as the bones were found. The answer to when they last saw Connie varied from family member to family member. “I last saw her round about Christmas 1917 then she was gone”, said Alice’s son James. Alice told him Connie had run away. If that was the case, asked James, why not go to the police? Alice replied she’d already been and that, “Connie had been picked up and she will come back some day”.

Connie’s father William swore he didn’t know anything about her. He had last seen her sweeping the kitchen on 1 June, 1918. After that, Alice always made an excuse when he wanted to see his daughter, saying Connie was upstairs or at the local recreation ground with the other children. But the police were suspicious that William accepted his daughter’s absence so readily.

The latest sighting was reported by Maggie who said Connie was around the day her parents moved out of No.12, in January 1919. But with the different dates they couldn’t all be right.

The truth was that by the time the family left Pembroke Place, Connie had been missing for months. William’s elder son, Corporal Albert Grant, who was serving with the Air Force in France, told the police that when he was home on leave in January 1919, he went with his father to look for Connie at Pembroke Place. He said;
“We made a search of the house and found that all the furniture had been removed with the exception of a child’s cot. We noticed an unpleasant smell, but did not pay any particular attention to it. My father and I searched for Connie for some time but could obtain no news of her.”

They returned with a policeman but it was the next tenant of No.12 who discovered the bones. Henry Hill told the inquest that he had complained to the house agent about the persistent bad smell but eventually took matters into his own hands. He bought some carbolic acid and took up the floor boards by the kitchen fireplace. At first he and his son George thought they had found a rotten turnip but further excavation unearthed the skull, which “smelt most offensively”.

Pembroke Place and Henry Hill (circled)

Pembroke Place and Henry Hill (circled)

Alice’s comment to her friend Sara, as well as her rapid exit from Kilburn, convinced the public that she had murdered Connie before making a run for it. Maggie was interviewed again and this time she said she wanted to tell the truth. As result of her new statement, she was arrested.

Maggie told the police that in October 1918, she had found Connie’s body in the coal cellar (actually a cupboard under the stairs). She was sitting upright and looked very thin. Maggie screamed and when her mother came to see what the matter was, Maggie ran away. Later she crept back into the house, looked in the cupboard and the body had gone. She never asked her mother what had happened to the corpse. The papers seized on this new twist:

“It is now practically certain that Constance Grant, whose remains were found under the floor of the back kitchen at No.12 Pembroke Place, was not murdered. It will probably be found that she died of self-imposed starvation, due to her mental condition.”

Connie had learning difficulties: one report of the inquest bluntly described her as “an imbecile”, while newspapers said she was “not very bright in intelligence, but good-natured and amiable”. Maggie swore that Alice thought the world of Connie. This was backed up by her brother James, who said Alice treated her own children and her step-children with equal affection.

The police redoubled their efforts to find Alice, and even planned to drag the Grand Junction Canal, as a woman and baby answering their description had been seen walking along its bank. Then a week after she had left Malvern Road, Alice calmly walked up to a policeman in Lewisham, saying she was wanted in connection with the Kilburn mystery.

Alice’s statement to police differed significantly from the information supplied by daughter Maggie and partner William Grant. The couple were arrested and appearing in court, where Alice stood in the dock with baby Doris in her arms. William sobbed as they were charged with manslaughter and illegally disposing of Connie’s body. Alice was hissed by the public when the skull was produced by the pathologist. Maggie was accused of taking part in illegally burying or disposing of Connie’s body, but this charge was later dismissed.

William Grant

William Grant

The inquest and subsequent trial at the Old Bailey revealed the truth behind the family’s sad life. It wasn’t straightforward; family members contradicted each other, timings were inconsistent and most important, the medical evidence was inconclusive.

Connie was described as, “wearing glasses, short and thin, very dull and very dirty”. James said his stepfather William had hit Connie more than once for being slovenly. James remembered Connie’s foot being swollen and black around Christmas time, 1917. He thought she had chilblains, but her condition was more serious than that. One of her toes broke off as her father bathed her foot; William denied this and challenged James saying, “You are telling lies.” James saw Connie a couple of days later but then she disappeared.

Connie’s sister Ada Grant appeared in court to give evidence. She was malnourished and very small for her age. Chief Inspector Haig of Scotland Yard called her a “little mite”, and in court the jury was assured that despite appearances, she was actually 14-years-old.

Ada Grant

Ada Grant

Ada said Connie did not go out to play and spent most of her time indoors, where they shared the top back bedroom. She’d last seen her when her foot was bad. After that, she never saw her again and when she asked Alice where she was, she was told Connie was in the front room which was always kept locked, with a curtain over the fanlight. Ada remembered Alice saying Connie was in bed the night before they left Pembroke Place. Alice was hissed again when she urged Ada, to speak the truth.

It was Alice who provided the most likely explanation of mystery. She said that after trying to bath Connie’s foot, it became inflamed and Connie couldn’t walk. So she slept in the living room for about a week. Alice said, “I gave her some cake. In the morning I went into the room and found Connie lying dead on the couch. I locked the door and let her lay there and I never told anyone.” Alice said this all happened not in December but March 1918. The reason she was so certain was because a few weeks later on 30 April, she said she gave birth to Doris. Alice said when she had recovered from the birth, she buried Connie’s body under the floorboards in the kitchen.

It is not clear how much William knew. He certainly lied about when he last saw his daughter alive, presumably to protect himself. Alice gave conflicting reasons for concealing Connie’s body: “I did not know what to do. William was a man she could not tell anything to.” But she also said, “I did this to save her father, as I did not want William to get into trouble”. She told her neighbour in Malvern Road that she didn’t want any reconciliation and had once threatened to take poison. But there was some evidence to indicate it wasn’t completely one-sided, that Alice could be a force to be reckoned with. William told a friend, “I am frightened to death. If I left her she would swear my life away.”

Given the condition of the bones, it proved impossible for Dr Spilsbury to establish exactly when poor Connie died. He concluded death occurred sometime between Christmas 1917 and March or April, 1918. The police claimed the bones had been buried as bones. Spilsbury said bluntly that “he could not form any idea as to the cause of death”. Connie might well have died from blood poisoning, given the condition of her foot.

The pathologist concluded that if the body had been placed in the manhole he had seen in the passage and covered with an air tight lid, “nine months would have been sufficient to have cleared the bones”. Perhaps Alice first placed Connie under the manhole, then later removed the bones and buried them. But she always maintained she had put Connie’s intact body under the boards: “The child was put down absolutely whole.” When asked to account for the absence of three ribs, Alice replied that the place was overrun by rats.

At the Old Bailey on 13 Sept 1919, William and Alice were found not guilty of manslaughter but guilty of wilful neglect and disposing of the body. The judge said he was “unable to draw any distinction between the prisoners as to the degree of their guilt.” Although he had encountered worse cases of neglect, he had “never heard of a worse case of thwarting the ends of justice by disposing of a body. This gave rise to grave suspicions which nobody could pretend were cleared away. They had disposed of the body to avoid an inquiry.”

William and Alice were both sentenced to 18 months in prison with hard labour. Four of their children were put in the Willesden workhouse before the trial was held. But we don’t know what happened to baby Doris.

Crime on the rise in West Hampstead

Is crime in West Hampstead on the rise, or are we just made more aware of it through social media? And through the rare but higher-profile crimes such as moped-based thefts or the recent acid attack. WHL met up with Sergeant Mark Townsend to discuss.

Certainly there is a sense that our relatively quiet part of north-west London has seen more crime of late, but do the statistics back that up? And what are the police doing about it?

Crime stats are available from the College of Policing website and are broken down by wards: Fortune Green, West Hampstead, plus parts of Swiss Cottage and Kilburn that make up ‘West Hampstead’. The numbers are a couple of months behind with the most recent figures being for June. Given that crime levels are generally relatively low, increases can be seasonal or statistically not significant, however, the data does suggest a rise in crime.

monthly Reported crime

As you can see from the chart, across the previous few months, monthly crime levels are actually fairly stable, with the exception of Kilburn, where crime is somewhat higher overall. However if you compare it with the same period last year it’s clearer that the trend is upwards. There is an average rise of 15% for the wards and a startling 50% jump in Fortune Green, confirming anecdotal (or tweetendotal) evidence that crime is on the up.

Crime 2016 vs 2017

Crime in Fortune Green up by 50%

Of course it’s important to know what types of crime are causing the increase. In Fortune Green, it’s largely a rise in burglaries and thefts from cars. From April to Jun 2016 (2Q) there were 31 burglaries in Fortune Green, but that had nearly doubled to 55 in 2017. Likewise from April to June  2016 there were 43 theft from cars, but in 2017 that rose to 78.

Fortune Green ward; breakdown of crimes

Fortune Green ward; breakdown of crimes

Here is a breakdown of which crimes make up the total. It is important to point out that West Hampstead is still relatively safe, but not as safe as it was. It is now about average for London, although still safer than Camden overall.

FG ward's relative position in the crime tables.

FG ward’s relative position in the crime tables.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These monthly stats are important because they alert the police to any hot spots and allow the Safer Neighbourhoods ward panels to decide crime priorities. Its is really important that you let the police know if you are victim of crime.

How can the police make our neighbourhood safer?

Sgt Mark Townsend has been at West Hampstead for two years and in the force for 13 years. He is in charge of three Safer Neighbourhood teams: Fortune Green, West Hampstead and Kilburn. Although the teams are separate, they do support for each other and coordinate on problems at the ward boundaries. West Hampstead and Fortune Green have two PCs each and one PCSO. Kilburn, with its higher crime rate, has four PCs and one PCSO. Alongside the Safer Neighbourhoods Teams there are response teams (these are the officers who respond to and investigate crimes) based at Kentish Town police station.

There are more changes in the pipeline as earlier this year Camden’s force merged with Islington. This merger is one of two pilots in London – the other is a merger of three east London boroughs. The aim is to turn what thirty London borough forces into 16 policing areas. Therefore further mergers are on the cards as are cuts to police numbers. Numbers are down already. In March 2010, there were 33,367 full-time officers in London. This had fallen to 31,782 in by March 2016 (both numbers include long-term absentees, currently about 1,000 officers).

With burglary and theft from cars on the rise, residents can play their part in making it harder for criminals. Sgt Townsend said that one of his biggest problems is people being lax with their own security. Car doors should always be locked (and anything valuable hidden out of sight), and mopeds should have a disk lock and be secured to the ground. All the oft-repeated advice about securing lower-ground floor flats and being careful not to leave communal doors open or letting in random people to communal flats without checking naturally apply too.

How to report a crime

If you are the victim of a crime, what’s the correct procedure? If it is urgent, call 999, but for less urgent matters call 101, which can take a minute or two to connect. If you are not sure on the level of urgency, Sgt Townsend said call 999 and they will direct your call as appropriate

If anyone wants to report something suspicious they can also call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 – or do it anonymously online, though this means you’ll have no follow up and the police can’t ask for more details. You can also report it directly the Safer Neighbourhoods teams where they can follow up.

Nevertheless, it is important to report a crime, and today the best way to do this is online, although there can be an urge to talk to a real person straight away. Four out of five crimes can now be reported online, even car collisions. The reasons to report all crime, apart from having it investigated, is that it then gets included in those crime stats, which themselves shape the police force’s priorities. Those priorities are updated on the police college site, and the Metropolitan Police pages for each ward’s Safer Neighbourhood Teams (Fortune Green , West Hampstead and Kilburn).

The Met’s site is still in beta, and could be more user-friendly, for example with photos of team members, which would make it more personable, though there are other attempts to modernise the service and make policing more visible. Kilburn Safer Neighbourhood team got smartphones about a year ago and have been tweeting more and more actively . Initially, Sgt Townsend said the team was unsure about this, but they have grown more comfortable with the idea and now eagerly report their successes and ward rounds. There are also Twitter account for Fortune Green and West Hampstead, but they are less achieve and specific than Kilburn, but with time should be more informative.

Safer Neighbourhood Panels

The crime stats are supposed to help the police together with the Safer Neighbourhood Panels (SNP)  decide what the crime priorities are for the area. Recently this has been drifting due to a change in personnel, however, earlier this year local activist Miles Seaman has taken over.  He has been working at reactivating the SNP by ensuring the the meetings are more regular and issues are raised in an orderly fashion. Confusingly, the police also ask for input about which crime priorities on the Safer Neighbourhoods website, but with only 4 votes last month it’s not very democratic.

What next?

So crime indeed has been on the rise in the area.  The question is what to do now?  Firstly, Sgt Townsend says please take personal responsibility, it is astonishing that the number of thefts that take place from unlocked cars. Given that we are facing continued cuts in police numbers this is all the more important. The Safer Neighbourhood Team numbers are safe.  For the moment.  But WHL thinks the police can also do their bit – they have been very slow to take up social media and their websites are – to say the least – clunky. A lot of local policing is know the faces of the bobbies (or PCSOs) on the beat but all we have are grey boxes, nor are their links to the email addresses or a phone number to contact the teams.

The Safer Neighbourhoods panel should hopefully be more pro-active under new chairmanship. Likewise we also haven’t seen much activity from our local councillors (or indeed from the local opposition), but we are happy to be corrected on this.

There is concern about releasing CCTV footage when crimes are committed. WHL has his wallet stolen in Costa coffee (doing an interview about crime, how’s that for irony) but Costa refused to release the footage even though the thief was caught on camera. Sgt Townsend thinks it is time to take a more sensible approach because the police don’t have the resources to follow up.

One example over the past year of everyone pulling together (including WHL) was on improving the Black Path and Billy Fury Way. Both paths had become overgrown and felt unsafe, this resulted in a few incidents. Last August WHL and a number of locals turned out to start cutting it back  and this galvanised Network Rail into action, thanks to help of the Police and local councillors. The overgrown foliage has been cut back, the lighting is improved, the path resurfaced and, that bit at least, is now a safer part of the neighbourhood.

And finally, here is some simple crime prevention advice from the Safer Neighbourhoods Team.  Stay safe West Hampstead.

Crime prevention

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”.

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 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 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.

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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“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 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.

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.

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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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.