‘Drugs are everywhere’ - police admit supply to city unchanged despite 1,000 arrests
PUBLISHED: 12:04 16 March 2019 | UPDATED: 09:37 18 March 2019
More than 1,000 arrests in the fight against the drug trade has had no impact on the supply in Norwich. DOMINIC GILBERT reports.
A few minutes before nine in the morning a man paces impatiently outside the pharmacy at the junction of Adelaide Street and West End Street.
A small queue forms behind him, peering through the window.
They are waiting to collect their methadone scripts as pupils clock into Notre Dame Preparatory School across the road.
A stone’s throw away at the car park on Watson Grove, heroin and cocaine deliveries are routinely being made from London.
Drugs have become endemic, neighbours say, in a city with one of the highest heroin death rates in the country.
The resulting drug trade has bred violence and anti-social behaviour.
And despite more than 1,000 arrests to disrupt it in the last two years, the drug supply has not diminished, as senior police officers warn it could get worse.
Amid the maze of housing blocks around Old Palace Road there have been stabbings, a shooting and tenants evicted from flats being used for drug dealing.
Vulnerable drug addicts - moved into social housing stock in the area - can become prey for violent ‘county lines’ gangs from London or Merseyside.
Neglected parks and housing estates have become their territory as residents feel they are unable to go out at night.
“It is like a ghost town now - it is horrible,” said one resident of Watson Grove. “I get home and lock my door and that’s it - I don’t answer the door to anyone.”
Norwich City Council says ‘dwindling funds’ has made it difficult to put in appropriate housing support for all vulnerable residents or keep the streets better maintained.
They are encouraging local residents to unite to reclaim the streets from dealers - with their support.
Colin Keatley, 68, landlord of the Fat Cat pub, lives opposite a park which was the scene of a shooting last summer.
Little has changed in the area since.
“We live in a terrible situation and it is because there is not enough money,” he said. “Drugs are everywhere. There are so many vulnerable people in this city and it seems to be getting worse.”
It is not an isolated case.
Drug issues in the area are being played out across the city.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey said after hundreds of arrests under the force’s Operation Gravity campaign, use of Class A drugs “is believed to have remained stable, and in some cases increased” over the last few years in Norfolk.
He added: “There is a captive market for drug suppliers to target and there appears to be a readily available supply of drugs for users to purchase.”
‘Dumping ground for druggies’
“There goes another one, off behind those sheds.”
It is early afternoon in Watson Grove and a 47-year-old resident points out another ‘dealer’.
She recognises the behaviour. For seven years she has been reporting suspicious activity to the police and council, since a property close by was taken over, or ‘cuckooed’, by dealers.
Gangs from London or Liverpool move in to the homes of drug addicts living in the area and use them as a base to deal from.
Since it first started, drugs “have been rife”, the resident said.
“You will get a car pull into the car park with a London congestion sticker in the window,” she explains. “People will then come and take rucksacks out of the car and go on their merry way.
“I think they do it here because it is like a little rat run.”
She says addicts shoot up in the stairwells in the housing blocks, and last summer a puppy less than six months old died after eating a bag of cocaine left in the street.
“I know we are trying to integrate people who have troubles but they have been closing all the places down to help these people,” she said.
The area around Old Palace Road is one of seven ‘Reducing Inequality’ target zones identified by the city council.
Norwich police chief inspector Sonia Humphreys said it is a “hotbed area for drug dealing” because there is a demand there.
“We have got people with significant needs and vulnerabilities residing in that area,” she said.
“It can be substance misuse and addiction that is causing that. It is the age-old issue of supply and demand.”
One addict who had his flat ‘cuckooed’ was Richard Wilson, 45, of Orchard Street.
He admitted allowing the address to be used for drug supply and was jailed for six months last September.
Wilson was disabled following a motorbike crash which left him with a paralysed right arm. Norwich Crown Court heard he was vulnerable and had “lost control” of the flat after it was taken over by dealers calling themselves the Ninja group.
But the city council said “dwindling funding” for housing support meant it was not always possible put in place “appropriate measures” for vulnerable tenants.
They added there is a “diminishing housing stock due to the impacts of right to buy”.
“The council and police have in the past year issued a number of section 8 ‘Misuse of Drugs Act’ letters in cases of cuckooed properties,” said a city council spokeswoman.
“These letters advise that the police and council are aware of the drug dealing, that it is unlawful and offers support to help stop the activity. This support might include a move to alternative accommodation and the property temporarily secured to stop the activity.”
But closure orders do not always work. A Derby Street flat, closed in 2017 for three months after becoming a drug dealing hub, was back up and running within weeks.
The tenant had slept in a graveyard until he was allowed to return.
While the council has a legal duty to allow those eligible to join the housing waiting list, they say they are able to disqualify them if they are guilty of “unacceptable behaviour”, including drug dealing or anti-social behaviour.
By the time action is taken, however, the consequences of estates falling victim to drug crime can leave neighbours frightened and resentful.
A man was stabbed outside Bob Parfitt’s doorstep in January of this year.
“I have never lived anywhere like this in my life,” said the 80-year-old.
“It only happens where the poorer people live. You do not get this down Newmarket Road.”
Eighty-year-old Michael Byatt has lived on the Dolphin Grove estate for 16 years.
When he moved in he said “everybody knew everybody”, but now they have “drug houses in every block”.
“Now we are frightened to go out at night,” he said.
Mr Byatt points out of his kitchen window at a flat he suspects is being used for dealing.
“Nobody ever seems to do ‘owt about it,” he added. “This is what they call a cemetery site because nobody can see them from the main road.”
Another Watson Grove resident, 66, said the area had become a “dumping ground for druggies”.
“It is like a ghost town now - it is horrible,” he said. “I get home and lock my door and that’s it - I don’t answer the door to anyone.”
Police know the areas where drug dealing is commonplace. They routinely urge neighbours to call 101 to report any suspicious activity, but in recent months they have been calling for more support to tackle the problem.
Sgt Mark Shepherd, of the safer neighbourhood policing team in Norwich East, said Heigham Grove and Watson Grove has been designated a ‘problem profile’ area for his officers, who will patrol in their down time.
With 10 beat managers assigned to the district after a recent recruitment drive, he has pledged to react to community concerns.
“Our enforcement action is there all the time in uniform and with plain clothes work,” he said.
“Our control room worked out when our call data came through and what time to put our resources out there, between four and six in the evening.”
But the force has said they can’t “arrest our way out of the problem” of county lines.
Of 178 people in the Norfolk integrated offender management scheme - which identifies the most prolific repeat offenders - three-quarters are involved in drugs.
“If we start arresting every vulnerable user that does not cut off the supply chain,” added Chief Insp Humphreys. “There needs to be a holistic approach to all this.
“If we can start to reduce drug misuse and mental health issues that might lead to fewer people self medicating. If we can make sure people are in appropriate housing with the right support around them, that might go some way to reducing some of that demand we have here in Norwich.
“We still need people to report activity and build that jigsaw puzzle of intelligence but we can’t keep using the same tactics.
“We have to start looking at something different.”
‘Broken window theory’
Of 24 addresses across Norwich suspected of drug dealing, 10 are within Sgt Shepherd’s beat in Norwich East.
Six of those are in the estates around Old Palace Road, but he admits there will be some police are unaware of.
“It is the smallest area but arguably the biggest residential urban area in the district,” he said.
“We know that supply moves and the users move to where that supply is. It is a real challenge to meet that.”
Some housing estates around Old Palace Road have become neglected, and the community is being urged to help clean up the streets.
“It is like a broken window which leads the whole area to become run down because it doesn’t get repaired,” said Sgt Shepherd.
It is the ‘broken window’ theory from the 1980s, which suggests visible signs of crime and anti-social behaviour will encourage more of the same.
“I do not think those areas would be built today,” Sgt Shepherd added of the social housing around Watson Grove and Goodman Square.
“They were built years ago when crime prevention was not how it is today. You are not overlooked, lighting is poor and vegetation is overgrown.
“When you have so many addresses there and so many people with a habit in and around that area, it becomes easy to deal.”
In times of austerity, however, the council says it cannot increase its efforts in the area.
Kate Price, neighbourhoods and community enabling manager at the council, addressed a residents meeting in the area earlier this month.
“What we can’t do is commit we can clean the streets more often because we have a very limited budget,” she said.
She pointed to success in the Old Library Wood area of Norwich, which had been a focal point for drugs and prostitution, as an example of the community solving the problem alongside the council and police.
“We can tackle it indirectly by making the area better,” she said. “People are less likely to be nefarious if a place is better looked after and better maintained.
“It can be really obvious where the spots are because they are in sheltered locations. The answer is cut them down and reclaim that green space.
“Sometimes it is not as simple as arresting all the criminals and putting up CCTV, but there are so many other things we can do.”
Pockets of the community are already taking a stand.
The Russell Street Residents Association formed just over a year ago to combat the constant drug dealing and anti-social behaviour on their doorstep.
County councillor for Mancroft ward, Labour’s Danny Douglas, added: “We have to reclaim the streets. People participate in different ways and the work of residents associations does help. We are in the majority.”
But with sparse turn outs at meetings and “apathy” in the community their efforts are not deterring the dealers.
“The drug dealers now don’t even care,” said chair of the residents association Jane Watkin. “Since we have got out on the streets we have seen parts of the area that are really quite run down.
“It is soul destroying. If something looks unkempt of course you are going to think it is an easy target because nobody goes there.
“If we can start making it a sociable area rather than and anti-social area maybe these people will go off somewhere else to do their deals.”
The residents association has been calling for CCTV cameras in the area for months, but have been warned by the city council there is “no evidence they act as a deterrent”, as their locations must be published by law.
The city council are deploying four new mobile CCTV vans in May, and replacing the entire public space CCTV system.
But they are constrained by a lack of funding.
Kevin Maguire, cabinet member for safe city environment, said the ‘complex issue’ of county lines “needs the government to step up and provide proper funding to support the police, councils, and other agencies”.
“We must remember most people who live in our neighbourhoods are good, law abiding people who care about the community in which they live,” he said.
“We will continue to work with partners to tackle the blight that is county lines while also supporting the most vulnerable in our communities.”
Sgt Shepherd added: “We will tackle it with the public’s help, because it is their community.
“If the public report it that allows us to be one step closer to stopping that supply chain.
“If we do not know about it I can’t put my resources there. If I know it is happening I can put my officers there to target patrols at the key times.”
269 heroin addicts seek help in Norwich
While the drug supply in Norwich has remained steady, the local rehabiliation service has seen a huge influx of heroin users this last year.
Change, Grow, Live took over the contract for drug and alcohol services from the Norfolk Recovery Partnership in April last year.
Since then 269 heroin addicts have presented themselves for the first time in the city.
Vicki Markiewicz, executive director of Change, Grow Live, said they work alongside police and the council to make vulnerable addicts “as safe as they can be”.
“Some people are horrified by those numbers but for us it is really positive because the word is getting out,” she said. “It takes a little time to get where we need to get to, but we have seen 355 successful outcomes across the county since the beginning of April. For us it is really about keeping people in treatment.”
She added their recovery co-ordinators will identify vulnerabilities to ensure people do not fall victim to exploitation.
“It is quite a challenge because they are often the one person they trust,” added Ms Markiewicz. “We have to work with relatively high case loads to try to find a way to support these people with all these problems. It is all about relationship building with local authorities.
“It is unbelievable the amount of work that goes in and it is often very difficult to navigate that support for someone with an opiate addiction.”
She said CGL are operating more services in the community in a bid to make it more accessible.
“If we prescribe methadone we are really driven on getting them an optimised dose,” she added.
“What often happens is they are put on a sub-optimised dose, but are still needing to use other drugs on top of that.
“If they are using other drugs they are more less safe and more likely to buy street drugs with everything that goes with that.
“We can then do the therapeutic stuff that comes afterwards, with real work around why they might have started using drugs in the first place.”
If you are having problems with drugs or alcohol contact Change, Grow, Live on 01603 514096 or email email@example.com.
‘Next wave of vulnerable adults’
On Monday, March 4, a raid at an address on Russell Street revealed more than £1,000 worth of heroin and crack, in the possession of a man from London.
He had been reported missing and was already wanted by the Metropolitan Police.
Of the more than 1,000 people arrested by police in their effort to crack down on county lines in Norfolk, four of every five had a London address.
Two of every 10 were under 18.
They are often drug runners plucked from the care system in London and sent to Norfolk as couriers.
But that theme is changing, according to T/ACC Nick Davison, who warned dealers are now targeting ‘Norfolk’s children’.
They know police are now looking for a certain profile of London youngsters travelling to the county, and are changing tactics.
“They are now trying to target middle class children to try to get them hooked into it to courier the money or the drugs,” said T/ACC Davison.
Figures from Norfolk police show children as young as 14 have been charged with supplying heroin in the last year. And in 2017 50 boys aged 16 or under were arrested for supplying drugs.
“If we are not careful we are going to end up with this becoming more prevalent, said Norwich chief inspector Sonia Humphreys. “If we do not address issues among children and young adults they are going to be the next wave of vulnerable adults and that will only increase the demand.”
One 16-year-old boy, who was caught dealing in Norwich, was recruited after being placed in a care home in the city.
Councillor Stuart Dark, chairman of the children’s services committee at Norfolk County Council, said they are “determined to stop people coming into our county, to prey on our children.
“Our work includes intelligence sharing, flagging risks and raising awareness, so that staff who work with children are alert to the signs and can tackle issues at an early stage,” he said.
The council said they provide “tailored support plans” when young people leave care, and they “work with primary schools to raise awareness of exploitation”.
A spokesman said: “We have an effective, multi-agency approach to screening and assessing all young people, where there is a concern they are being exploited. We have a joint team that includes social workers, youth offending team staff and police officers.”
Anyone with information about drug dealing in their area should call police on non-emergency number 101, or email their local officers.