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Giving neighbours a break from the hell of drug crime - is this police tactic working?

PUBLISHED: 07:40 28 April 2018 | UPDATED: 18:01 28 April 2018

PC Adam Binns places a Closure Order issued by the courts on the door of the flat in Derby Street, Norwich, as part of Operation Gravity in 2017 (l). And right inside a drug den closed by police on Saffron Square last year. Photo: Archant/Norfolk Police

PC Adam Binns places a Closure Order issued by the courts on the door of the flat in Derby Street, Norwich, as part of Operation Gravity in 2017 (l). And right inside a drug den closed by police on Saffron Square last year. Photo: Archant/Norfolk Police

Archant

They are used to crack down on drug dealing, noisy neighbours and drinking. But are they working? Tom Bristow and Taz Ali report on what happens after tenants get evicted by ‘closure orders’.

Inside a flat at Saffron Square which was closed by Norfolk Police for three months after reports of drug use. Picture: Norfolk PoliceInside a flat at Saffron Square which was closed by Norfolk Police for three months after reports of drug use. Picture: Norfolk Police

The only person around Saffron Square on a mid-morning is a solitary postman.

No one answers their buzzers or doorbells and a silence hangs over the block of flats in Norwich’s Mile Cross.

This is where a man was murdered almost 18 months ago, sparking Norfolk Police’s current crackdown on drugs – Operation Gravity.

The murder of 59-year-old Michael Currer in November 2016 remains unsolved. But police have been busy since then on their war on drugs.

The murder of Michael Currer in Saffron Square, Norwich, in November 2016 remains unsolved.  Photo: ArchantThe murder of Michael Currer in Saffron Square, Norwich, in November 2016 remains unsolved. Photo: Archant

In March last year Operation Gravity officers used a closure order to shutdown a flat in Saffron Square which was being used to deal Class A drugs.

Pictures of the drug den show a squalid scene inside.

One room was full of bike parts; the main living area was covered with dirty clothes and rubbish.

It was one of three closure orders made in Norfolk last year which are used by councils and the police to evict tenants for up to three months.

Since 2014, 20 closure orders have been made in Norfolk, while Suffolk Police used them nine times last year – eight of which were to shut down drug dens.

Paul Kendrick, city councillor for the area, said the order at Saffron Square had worked. “People were hanging around in a disreputable manner and residents were concerned,” he said. “It was a difficult time. There was suddenly a deterioration (in Saffron Square) which I think has now been turned around. No one has complained to me since the closure order.”

But a closure order made in Derby Street off Heigham Street has been less successful.

After it was made in February 2017, the tenant at the city council block moved back in after sleeping in a graveyard for three months and the drug use continued.

The flat at Saffron Square which was closed by police in 2017 after reports of drug use. Picture: Norfolk PoliceThe flat at Saffron Square which was closed by police in 2017 after reports of drug use. Picture: Norfolk Police

One neighbour said: “We couldn’t get any sleep. I nearly lost my job through exhaustion.”

Then two weeks ago police raided the flat in a drugs operation and found a machete inside.

When we visited the flat last week it was empty with the door boarded up from where the police had smashed through.

Assistant Chief Constable Paul Sanford said: “In some cases, after the resident has returned to their property, the ASB or criminal activity continues.

Inside a flat at Saffron Square which was closed by Norfolk Police for three months after reports of drug use. Picture: Norfolk PoliceInside a flat at Saffron Square which was closed by Norfolk Police for three months after reports of drug use. Picture: Norfolk Police

“In situations like this we look to other tactics we can implement such as further enforcement action.”

A city council spokesman said they only used closure orders as a last resort. “When dealing with this type of behaviour we work with the police and support agencies to find the most appropriate approach to resolving issues,” the spokesman said.

King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Council also said it used closure orders when it had no other option.

After nearly a three-year dispute with neighbours, tenants in a house of multiple occupancy (HMO) in Newlands Avenue, King’s Lynn, were thrown out in February. In court, the council said it had received more than 100 complaints about noise, where parties would continue into the early hours of the morning with people fighting in the street.

But that description is a far cry from what it looks today.

On a road lined with flowering trees and neat driveways the boarded up house looks out of place. “When people come down here they comment on it,” said one neighbour, who has been living in Newlands Avenue for more than 40 years. “It was quite a shock, I have never known anything like it since I have been here.”

Jordan Loake, 22, who lives in the property to the right of the house, moved in a month before the closure order was placed on the HMO.

He said: “There was loud music and people coming in and out, but when a lady from the council came out to speak to us I said it didn’t bother me.”

15 Newlands Avenue in King's Lynn has been boarded up after a closure order. Picture: Ian Burt15 Newlands Avenue in King's Lynn has been boarded up after a closure order. Picture: Ian Burt

But a closure order in 2015 in Highgate, King’s Lynn, has made a significant difference to one woman’s life, who has been living in the same house for 44 years.

June Walker, 80, said she had just returned home after shopping when she saw the road had been cordoned off.

Norfolk police sought a closure order on a ground floor flat of a two storey building which had been used as a drugs den.

“It was obvious what they were doing,” Mrs Walker added. “People coming in and out all the time, morning and late at night, it went on for years.

Photographs of the drugs paraphernalia taken by police in the flat in Derby Street which was closed. Picture: Norfolk PolicePhotographs of the drugs paraphernalia taken by police in the flat in Derby Street which was closed. Picture: Norfolk Police

“That was the only time there was any trouble, since then we’ve had no trouble.”

•Where closure orders have been made

More than 40 closure orders had been made by police in Norfolk and Suffolk since 2014, according to Freedom of Information requests submitted by this newspaper to police forces and councils.

Photographs of the drugs paraphernalia taken by police in the flat in Derby Street which was closed.  Picture: Norfolk PolicePhotographs of the drugs paraphernalia taken by police in the flat in Derby Street which was closed. Picture: Norfolk Police

In Norfolk, 12 of the 16 closure orders made by the county’s police were in Norwich, all of which cited supply and/or use of Class A drugs and nuisance or disorders as reasons for closure.

King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Council has made three closure orders since 2014.

These include two in King’s Lynn – Parkway in Gaywood and Newlands Avenue – and Glebe Road in Downham Market.

In Suffolk, police and local authorities made 16 closure orders, nine of which took place in 2017.

The majority of Suffolk closure orders were made in Ipswich – nine compared to three in Lowestoft and three in Bury St Edmunds, all relating to drug-related activity or anti-social behaviour.

•What are closure orders?

Closure orders came into force through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to tackle “disorderly, offensive or criminal behaviour”.

They often start with closure notices which police place on a property for 24 to 48 hours.

In many cases, the closure notice is enough to deal with the problem.

But if not, applications can be made through magistrates’ courts for a closure order, which lasts three months, and prevents anyone from entering the property.

Partial closure orders can also be sought, which only prevent particular people using the property.

The vast majority given in Norfolk and Suffolk have been used to shut down drug dens but they can also be used as a last resort against nuisance neighbours.

Before giving one, magistrates have to be satisfied that the person has engaged or is likely to engage in disorderly or criminal behaviour.

•Anyone wanting to report anti-social behaviour to police should call 101.

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