The latest area of Norwich hit by drug dealing looks to fight back
PUBLISHED: 06:33 29 May 2018 | UPDATED: 15:04 29 May 2018
Copyright: Archant 2018
Needles in parks and dealing in daylight; one area next to the city centre has become the latest front in the war on drugs - and raises questions about how Norwich should tackle addiction.
A shopkeeper has got so frustrated by crime in her area she has put up photos in her window of those she claims have been caught stealing.
The 15 images stuck up above crisp boxes in the window of Alco Stores in Suffolk Square show how drug addiction has brought problems to the area.
“They stand around waiting for the dealers to come down,” she said. “It has had a knock-on effect on businesses.
“Sometimes I feel unsafe when lots of them come in the shop. They think they are invisible.”
But the problems the community is trying to tackle go far beyond the faces of shoplifters captured on CCTV.
Heroin claimed 17 lives in Norwich from 2014 to 2016 and the city has one of the highest rates of heroin deaths of any city in England.
On nearby Ampthill Street, where the handsome Georgian homes can fetch £500,000, colourful chalk patterns show where children have been playing on the pavement.
But since last year, residents’ lives have been blighted by Class A drug dealing and crime.
A machete has been found dumped in one garden and an elderly woman was robbed last year.
One woman who lives on the street said up to 15 users would gather outside her house waiting for a dealer.
“The kids play on the street and the area has a really nice feel to it,” she said. “Then last October things got really bad. There was serious dealing, 15 people would show up all at once.”
One of the residents found syringes in his garden; police were called and carried out extra patrols.
But after the clampdown, groups of people turned up again, the neighbour said. “People didn’t want to go out. They felt really uncomfortable and vulnerable.”
Police have responded to the increase in dealers, particularly coming to Norfolk from London, by clamping down on Class A dealing.
They have arrested more than 500 people in the last 16 months in Norfolk.
But in the parade of shops opposite Jenny Lind Park on Suffolk Square businesses report the grim reality of life on drugs.
One Saturday afternoon a shopkeeper saw a man and woman having sex around the corner from her shop, while the woman tried to grab the drugs from the man.
“They were not trying to cover it up,” she said. “I’ve seen people do drug exchanges out here in the day and arguing. It’s been going on for about a year.”
In Jenny Lind Park, two teenagers play basketball, mums push prams and dog walkers enjoy the sunshine.
But three weeks ago, the staff at Vauxhall Street Pharmacy said a man ran into the shop to get help for his friend who had taken drugs in the park toilets and passed out.
“We went over to see what we could do,” the pharmacy manager said.
An ambulance was called and the man recovered.
Two weeks ago, however, the manager said one of the addicts who regularly came to the pharmacy died.
The pharmacist said: “Earlier this year they disappeared and then they’ve come back again.
“We see needles in the park and in the toilets.
“Someone came from the park and asked me to pick up the needles.”
But he said one of the biggest problems drug dealing had brought to the area was shoplifting.
In the middle of the parade, however, there is a sign that the area is trying to claim back its public areas.
“We’re putting a play on here, June 8th & 9th,” reads a poster in the window of the Jenny Lind Community Arts Project.
Danny O’Hara from the Slow Theatre Company, which is organising the performance in Suffolk Square, said: “It is very much about reclaiming the space.”
Called ‘The Spirit of the Place’, it will be performed from 4pm to 7pm.
Around the corner from the shops is Holy Trinity Church.
This landmark of the Golden Triangle became a hot-spot last year for drug dealing and addicts.
But the church said it had died down since they cut the grass back outside the building.
Opposite, in the council flats of Suffolk Square, the grass has also been cut back at the request of councillors after needles were found.
Norfolk County councillor for the area Emma Corlett said: “Dirty needles and syringes are being discarded and people are blatantly dealing and using drugs in daylight in full view of others.
“I worry it’s becoming normalised and that is a really risky message for young people to pick up.”
•‘What we’re doing isn’t working’
Councillor for the area Emma Corlett said different approaches had to be tried to tackle Class A drug addiction and dealing.
“What we are doing now is not working,” she said. “Reactive responses such as from the police and ambulance service are costly, and don’t support lasting change. We need to direct resources at intervening early, re-investing in youth work and supporting and protecting our young people before things spiral out of control.”
Other countries have adopted more radical solutions.
Drug consumption rooms, which legally allow addicts to take drugs in a place supervised by medics, have been introduced in almost 70 cities worldwide.
Also known as “fix rooms”, health chiefs in Glasgow have tried to open a similar facility but it ran into legal problems last year.
The law would need to be changed to make the facility legal and the Home Office has also blocked the proposal.
•‘Police can’t solve alone’
Police are cracking down on drug dealers but they say it is not a problem they can solve alone.
Policing inspector for the area Mike Austin said: “We are working with partner agencies to help those most vulnerable members of the community who use drugs to get the support they need.
“We will continue with patrols in the area and anyone found committing offences will be dealt with robustly.”
He said police were aware of concerns from residents in the Vauxhall Street area and stepping up patrols had helped.
In the last 16 months, more than 500 people have been arrested for drug offences by Norfolk police.
Many are young men from London who are sent up to Norfolk to deal, which is known as County Lines.
It has lead to more violence and knife crime linked to drugs.
•Anyone who has concerns about drugs in their area should contact police on 101
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