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Why, for the first time, I was embarrassed by Norwich

PUBLISHED: 05:59 26 November 2019 | UPDATED: 08:16 26 November 2019

Norfolk police raiding a property suspected of dealing drugs in Heathgate, Norwich as part of Operation Gravity. Picture: Archant

Norfolk police raiding a property suspected of dealing drugs in Heathgate, Norwich as part of Operation Gravity. Picture: Archant

Archant

Editor David Powles writes to the parliamentary candidates for Norwich on the growing problem of drugs in our city.

Inspector Nick Palin with a tent containing cannabis plants in the loft of a property on the Aylsham Road during an Operation Gravity drugs raid. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYInspector Nick Palin with a tent containing cannabis plants in the loft of a property on the Aylsham Road during an Operation Gravity drugs raid. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Dear parliamentary candidates for Norwich North and Norwich South,

I love Norwich, I really do.

I love walking around its centre and taking in sights like the Castle, Forum, its medieval churches and so many more.

I love its tree-lined streets and plethora of parks to lark around in. I love its people.

Police during an Operation Gravity drugs raid at a property on the Aylsham Road. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPolice during an Operation Gravity drugs raid at a property on the Aylsham Road. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

I love it in the summer when thousands gather to take advantage of the many great events on offer.

And I love it in the winter, on a cold, clear night when it literally glows in the dark.

Oh and of course I very much love its football team.

In fact, as anyone who knows me will testify, I wear Norwich like a badge and will proclaim its virtues to anyone who visits and is otherwise unaware of its charms.

But in the last fortnight something strange has happened. Something I've never encountered before.

In conversation with two visitors to the city, I found myself embarrassed, and maybe even a little ashamed, about something going on here. Something that is rapidly impacting the lives of an increasing number of people.

And I'm writing to you, as a potential representative for Norwich in parliament, to ask what you would do about it, should it be within your power?

But first the context. The visitors were two journalists from the BBC's national team who had been tasked with profiling two key election issues in our city.

Their first was our struggling mental health services, the second, and the one I'd been asked to discuss, the growing threat of county lines drug dealing and the violence associated with it.

My task was to head out onto the streets to discuss this issue with potential voters.

And in the journey out I gave them my usual spiel about Norwich being a great city, so friendly, so peaceful and so under-rated.

But then, over the next hour, it's fair to say they got a very different picture as a repeated number of people talked about the negative impact drug dealing was having on their day-to-day lives.

We visited Dereham Road, where just a few weeks ago violence broke out in the middle of the day, with dozens watching on, in what was believed to have been a row over drugs. Knives were used and two people ended up in hospital.

Most shocking was that those people I spoke to weren't that shocked.

I spoke to a dog walker who told me about the deals, arguments and more that she witnessed on her walks every single day. She was concerned about having her grand-daughter at home, so frequent had these problems become.

I found myself cringing as the two visitors heard these tales. Was this really the Norwich so many of us know and love? I'm afraid to say that judging by our own extensive coverage over the last few years - it is.

Of course it's imperative to point out these issues are not exclusive to our city. I regularly visit the Suffolk town of Bury St Edmunds, a sort of mini Norwich, and the same thing is happening over there. I'm sure that's the case in many more across the country.

But that doesn't make it right and that doesn't lessen the need for more to be done to reduce the dealing happening on our streets and the misery it causes.

It's now been several years since we first featured the phrase 'county lines' on our front pages. Since then Norfolk Police has made hundreds of arrests and, in many ways, done a sterling job to tackle the gangs.

But they've seen resources cut and pressures grow, as have many of our public bodies in the age of austerity.

This means that, just like waves in the sea, the tide keeps on coming. I fear we could see more instances of violence linked to county lines and, as was the case in Thetford just a few weeks ago, the worst consequences imaginable.

This gives me no pleasure to write and I genuinely don't know what the answer is. But what I do know is that whatever party is elected on December 12, they are unlikely stumble upon a magic money tree and be able to throw millions of pounds at this problem.

Therefore we need to find a new solution. We need some radical ideas and thoughts on this very real issue.

I would love to hear yours.

David Powles

Editor-in-Chief

* This column has been sent to all prospective MPs for the two constituencies and I shall share with you any responses I receive.

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