Stripping victims ‘new element’ to street robberies

There has been a spate of street robberies recently in Chiswick in which the victim has been forced to strip. This is a new element to mugging according to Superintendent Gary Taylor, Deputy Commander for the Metropolitan Police West area – the tri-borough Basic Command Unit of Hillingdon, Ealing and Hounslow. Supt. Taylor told a meeting in the Town Hall last Thursday that muggers forcing their victims to strip was not something he had come across before in all his years of policing. “We think it may be to do with drugs” he told the audience; potentially drug dealers making sure that their teenage victims weren’t also dealing drugs on what they regarded as their patch.

There is a clear correlation between drugs and knife crime, as evidenced in the most recent crime figures for this area. Drug offences in Homefields ward went up to 23 over the past six months compared with 11 in the previous 6 month period – more than 100% increase. Over the same period knife crime went up to 23 over the past six months from four incidents in the previous six month period – an increase of 475%. The figures show a significant decrease in ‘violence with injury’ in Homefields ward over the same period (34 down to 25).

As the police outlined what measures they’d been taking over the past three months to crack down on street attacks, it was clear that their increased presence and targeted activity had made a significant impact, but from the first hand evidence of members of the audience it was also clear that attacks are still happening and it may be that the success of the police in some areas has just displaced the problem into others.

Success in making arrests

The police have been working hard to address the issue of knife crime in our area. That much was evident from the presentation made by Supt Taylor and local colleagues. Ten suspects have recently been arrested and five have been convicted in court, with other operations ongoing as a result of their increased presence around Turnham Green Terrace and Chiswick Common, and in particular their policy of targeting young men known to have carried weapons previously. But members of the audience gave first hand evidence that showed the increased police presence may just have displaced criminal assaults elsewhere.

Annie Easton told the meeting two boys had been mugged and made to strip at Turnham Green and four had been mugged at Stamford Brook the previous weekend. “Crime is out of control” said David Craig, whose son had been threatened on Saturday and whose friend had been mugged and stripped the week before. “I don’t think crime is out of control” said Supt Taylor. “We’ve had a significant impact. We know the demographic. We know where they’re coming from. All we can do is carry on with that momentum”.

At a previous meeting in December, Barry Murray, the manager at the Rocks Lane sports centre on Chiswick Common had recounted how every day they were getting reports of muggings and threats to the thousands of young people who came to play sport. He said the police had been working very closely with them and additional lighting provided by Hounslow Council on the common had definitely helped. They had seen no incidents for some time now he said.

Others gave accounts of how crime had moved into the residential streets in Bedford Park. Over the weekend the number of boys mugged was in double digits, one parent told the meeting. “Boys don’t feel safe” she said when they were “violently attacked, assaulted and humiliated”. Attacks had happened in Mayfield Avenue , which runs parallel with Turnham Green Terrace, in daylight.

Increased police presence

Supt Taylor said that under ‘Operation Wolverine’ ten officers had been assigned to Chiswick over the past ten or eleven weeks, five of whom were the highest arresting officers in the whole of London. They had also had a police interceptor unit based with their vehicle in Chiswick. He had bid for more resources from the Violent Crimes Task Force as he recognised this was not something which could just be solved by the local Safer Neighbourhoods team. They had had additional support from plain clothes officers, under Operation Lindhouse, who had caught criminals in the act, identified the group responsible for most of the muggings in the area, found stolen property and in some cases managed to return stolen phones.

Sergeant Anil Sharma, who is based locally, also told the meeting that British Transport Police had stepped up their surveillance and that the local police had been working with schools in the area as well as youth workers and the sports coaches at Rocks Lane.

Laura Ellener, the new head teacher at Chiswick School, thanked the police for their “reassuring presence”. She said they’d been on call whenever they were needed. “I’ve not experience that anywhere else I’ve worked in London” she said. “We understand that our students don’t always behave in the way they should. We will make sure they do and monitor their behaviour on buses, on trains and in the shops as well as in school”.

Denny Anthony, the senior youth worker at Hogarth Youth Centre, told the meeting there had to be other options available to young people other than drugs and crime. Barry Murray added that although Chiswick is perceived as a prosperous area “there are a good number who don’t have support and security at home and sport can help by teaching discipline and self sacrifice”.

Continuing the fight against crime

Supt Taylor promised the police wouldn’t just focus on our area for three months and then shift their attention elsewhere. He said the West area would have 90 new members of staff joining them over the next three months to beef up the response teams. He was also bidding for additional resources from the Metropolitan Police to enable them to keep up the momentum.