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‘We are surrounded by dealers and addicts’ - is this Norwich’s most drug-ridden estate?

PUBLISHED: 06:00 27 October 2018 | UPDATED: 09:35 28 October 2018

The words

The words "lowlife scum" scrawled on the door of a flat at Watson Grove, which was raided by police. Photo: Submitted.

Archant

It is an area of Norwich that has witnessed a shooting, a stabbing and regular Class A drug dealing over the past 18 months.

The scene of a stabbing at Watson Grove in Norwich last year (2017). Picture Luke PowellThe scene of a stabbing at Watson Grove in Norwich last year (2017). Picture Luke Powell

But now, people living around the Watson Grove estate say they have had enough with the criminal behaviour plaguing their community.

We have spoken to multiple people living on Armes Street, in the Watson Grove flats, and at Goodman Square.

They claim the area has become a hot spot for heroin and crack cocaine dealing.

Residents have reported finding addicts “shooting up” and defecating in their stairwells.

Others say drug dealers are living in the flats around them.

It comes just weeks after Norfolk police seized 400 wraps of suspected Class A drugs from a property in Watson Grove.

Three people were subsequently charged with intent to supply heroin.

Other serious incidents in the area include:

Norfolk county councillor Danny Douglas, who represents the ward covering the Watson Grove area, said the community was desperate for help.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYNorfolk county councillor Danny Douglas, who represents the ward covering the Watson Grove area, said the community was desperate for help. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

• June 2018 - A gunman shoots a 19-year-old in the back on Adelaide Street - It was said to be the first time a firearm had been discharged in a public area of the city.

• February 2018 - Four men are attacked on Armes Street - weeks after vandals damaged six cars and church bus on the same street.

• June 2017 - a man in his 50s was stabbed in the chest at a flat at Watson Grove.

• January 2017 - police close down another flat linked to the drug trade on the same estate.

Some of the Watson Grove flats make up Norwich City Council’s social housing stock.

Other properties in the area have been purchased.

Adam Garner, 29, bought his flat at the nearby Goodman Square in April this year.

He said: “We get heroin users in the stairwells, and they leave needles and excrement behind.

The police cordon around woodland on Adelaide Street in Norwich and surrounding roads after a shooting. Adelaide Street is located just 500m away from Watson Grove. Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2018The police cordon around woodland on Adelaide Street in Norwich and surrounding roads after a shooting. Adelaide Street is located just 500m away from Watson Grove. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2018

“There was a young woman who was chased back into her block by someone recently, and my fiance won’t take the bins out anymore, out of fear.”

“Things are getting really, really bad.”

Mr Garner was one of several residents who met with Norfolk county councillor Danny Douglas on Sunday to discuss the issues they faced.

Deborah Sallows, 53, has lived on the Watson Grove estate for 20 years and is a member of the Wensum Residents’ Association.

She said: “We have people outwardly dealing drugs now, they just don’t seem to care.

“Twice in the past month I have seen plain-clothed police officers grapple with suspects. I’ve never seen that happen before.”

One man, who lives at Watson Grove, said the drug trade was responsible for the area’s decline.

He said: “I am not talking about someone smoking a bit of puff [cannabis], I’m talking about heroin and crack cocaine.”

Supt Terry Lordan said people can report an incident anonymously via Crimestoppers. Picture: Nick ButcherSupt Terry Lordan said people can report an incident anonymously via Crimestoppers. Picture: Nick Butcher

The man, who did not wish to be named, claimed residents had to rely on two outcomes for problematic tenants to get evicted.

He said: “You have to rely on the person either being killed or being locked up in prison.

“It’s the landlord’s [city council] problem. It’s the landlord who is housing these people. “

The council said it had a duty to house vulnerable people.

It said the eviction process was “complex” and is ultimately decided by a judge, who can turn down an application or suspend an eviction order.

A woman living at Armes Street said she was too afraid to call police due to the risk of repercussions.

“I’ve had them [addicts] smoking crack outside my flat,” she said. “It’s a nightmare.”

“There are some lovely people here, but unfortunately it is outweighed by the crowd of drug users.”

A window kicked in at Goodman Place. Photo: SubmittedA window kicked in at Goodman Place. Photo: Submitted

Police superintendent Terry Lordan said it was important people contact police if they know of criminal activity taking place.

He said people can report an incident anonymously via Crimestoppers.

“When we do get intelligence around drug dealing at an address we will certainly be knocking on the [criminal’s] door,” Supt Lordan added.

He said officers had a successful week targeting drug users in Norwich earlier in October.

“My objective is to make Norwich one of the most hostile environments for drug users,” he added.

“And I have no doubt that the recent decline in knife crime is a result of the activity of targeting drug dealers in and around the city.”

Councillor: ‘People are at their wits’ end’

Norfolk county councillor Danny Douglas, who represents the ward covering the Watson Grove area, said the community was “desperate” for help.

Someone sleeping in a stairwell at Goodman Place. Photo: SubmittedSomeone sleeping in a stairwell at Goodman Place. Photo: Submitted

The Labour councillor met with residents of Freeman Square and Goodman Square last Sunday to hear their complaints regarding drug use.

“People were talking about users shooting-up in stairwells, and in some cases they [addicts] had tried to open the doors to their houses,” Mr Douglas said.

“Although they were sympathetic to the police, they did not feel as though they were getting the response they needed.

“They are worried about dealers and users coming and going at all times, they even had experience of people defecating outside their doors.

“People are desperate and they are at their wit’s end.”

Mr Douglas said he was planning to invite Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner to the area.

Eviction used as a ‘last resort’

The city council said evicting tenants is used as a last resort as it leads to making an individual homeless.

A flat that was shut down by police in 2017 as part of Operation Gravity. Photo: ArchantA flat that was shut down by police in 2017 as part of Operation Gravity. Photo: Archant

“The city council has a duty to house vulnerable people, for example those who may have a history of rough sleeping or experienced other issues,” a council spokesman said.

“In these cases, we use a range of safeguarding tools which include move-on agreements with hostels, compulsory tenancy training and specialist support which is often put in place before a tenant even moves in.

“All new tenants are given introductory tenancies, which, as well as giving individuals more support, also make it easier for the council to take enforcement action in the event of any anti-social behaviour.”

The council said those applying for a home are checked in regard to their behaviour, criminal activity or previously tenancy failure.

‘I have lived here for 52 years’

Some of those living at Watson Grove have done so for decades.

One pensioner, who did not wish to be named, said she brought up a family on the estate in the 52 years she lived there.

She said she only felt safe because she no longer walked anywhere.

Gavin Goldsmith, left, Jono Thorne, centre, and Karl Connell, members of the Alive Church, work to clear up and board up the vandalised windows on the church bus in Armes Street after they were vandalised. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYGavin Goldsmith, left, Jono Thorne, centre, and Karl Connell, members of the Alive Church, work to clear up and board up the vandalised windows on the church bus in Armes Street after they were vandalised. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“It is dreadful what is happening,” she said. “You see the cars come in and you know they are going to deal drugs.”

Another recalled how she used to know everyone living in the flats.

But she added: “You can’t pinpoint who they are now, people are in and out of the flats like no-one’s business.”

A woman who said she had lived on the estate for “years and years” believed the crime levels had improved recently, claiming there used to be “some really awful things going on”.

But she added: “The people who might say hello to you one day are screaming the next. It can be quite erratic.”

Public meeting complaints

Inspector Graham Dalton, who is based at Earlham Police station, said officers recently held a public meeting at Wensum Community Centre to discuss some of the local issues.

He said: “There were a number of people getting frustrated with the council always putting these people back into flats.

“Their main gripe is that they keep getting undesirable people living there.

“There were some complaints about not having locks on communal doors or locks being broken.”

He urged residents to call Crimestoppers anonymously if they were concerned about giving their identity away when reporting crime.

• Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously on 0800 555 111. Alternatively, contact Norfolk police on 101.

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