A big thanks to the 684 (and counting) people who have signed the petition against Betfred in the high street.
Let's hope someone listens. Unfortunately it won't be the Licensing Committee at Lewisham Council.
We had been led to believe that the petition could be included in our objections at the Licensing Committee's hearing of Betfred's application at the Civic Suite this Wednesday (9th Feb, 7.15pm), submitted as supplementary material.
However, we were told today that whilst we are allowed to submit additional information in support of our objection, a 'petition' is counted as 'representation' rather than 'additional information', and therefore cannot be accepted outside of the 28 day application period that began on 24th December.
The people of Deptford have spoken.
Brilliant timing, eh? While everyone was doing Christmas and New Year, Betfred snuck in their application, so it wasn't noticed by locals until at least a week later. Not that it would make any difference who noticed. The various official bodies that were alerted on 24th December have failed to register any objections to the Licence, much to Betfred's obvious glee and satisfaction (or rather, business as usual).
They are: Met Police Licensing at Catford, London Fire & Emergency, Environmental Health, Planning & Development Control, Children's Services, Gambling Commission, HM Revenue & Customs. The most concerning ones are the Met Police and Children's Services. We called the Met Licensing Officer, who was amenable. It was an eye opener.
May we ask why you didn't object?
Because we have no evidence that Betfred are linked to serious organised crime.
Whhhoa! Er..what about 'disorder' as in 'Crime & Disorder' (linking gambling as a grounds for objection)?
Nope, that neither.
So what the Met normally consider Crime, eg criminal damage, shoplifting and drug offences, they don't count?
And Antisocial Behavour, eg Street Drinking, Begging, Harrassment...doesn't that count as Disorder?
No, fraid not. Disorder has been defined under the Gambling Act as something much more severe.
What, a riot? GBH? Assault? Violent Crime?
It's hard to explain, but it's the Gambling Law. It doesn't really include Anti-Social Behaviour.
So basically you're saying there's no point in objecting unless you can link Betfred with the Mafia?
I'm not saying that.
Would you agree that Lewisham may have directed you all to do nothing because if an objection were to succeed it would land them with a hefty legal bill when Betfred appeal?
I couldn't possibly comment. We really are obliged to comply with the law in these matters.
Sorry, did you say something? No I never...alright move along...
The eye-opener is Section 153 of the Gambling Act which says "Local authorities should note that in the case of gambling premises licences, disorder is intended to mean activity that is more serious and disruptive than mere nuisance."
No one at Licensing told us this. We built a petition around it. One could say they set us up to fail, though of course they knew any objections on the part of residents would fail anyway.
And they know what our objection is really about: we already have enough betting shops, we don't want another. Not grounds for objection under the current law, of course. We only knew what grounds to object on because of what the Licensing Team told us. They do have a link to the Gambling Act on their webpage. Of course we never bloody read it, thinking it would be a hundred pages long.
However, we might have been given the kind but fruitless advice that is available on Haringey Council's website:
Residents will not be in a position to give any supporting evidence to the first 2 objectives, i.e. ensuring gambling is kept free from crime and ensuring gambling is conducted in a fair and open way. These objectives are really matters that the Gambling Commission are best placed to deal with.
The Guidance issued to the Police advises them that they are able to refer to the following, but even in that guidance it uses the word ‘may be relevant’
‘Other gambling premises in the area are routinely used for illegal activities such as drug-dealing’
‘The existence of other similar premises in the area has been found to have contributed towards local disorder’
‘Other premises owned by this operator in the area have been known to have major problems with underage gambling’
The 3rd objective of protecting children and the vulnerable is also hard to evidence as the law already dictates that only persons aged 18 or over are allowed on betting premises. It will not be relevant to state that because children are walking by a betting shop on their daily journey maybe to and from school that they will be harmed by this."
So, it seems, the Met Licensing Officer in Catford could've at least submitted the "maybe relevant" info about the drug dealing and local disorder. But pointless coming from us, THE PEOPLE, who have to use the street.
Lewisham has misled almost 700 people that there may be some democratic process they can take part in and influence. But there's no such thing. There have already been THREE protests about high street bookies in the past two years and you can't even be bothered to tell us to stop wasting our time.
Move along there, but stop, a word for our local police team...
Later, Sgt Alger from New Cross SNT finally returned our call, after we'd been trying to contact him all last week during the Met's police.uk website launch and reorganisation of Safer Neighbourhood Teams nationwide, that seemed to have made the Met totally disfunctional and incommunicado for the entire week. Before the sergeant called, Crosswhatfields had been nattering in the high street to a couple of mates. Whilst we'd been chatting outside Barclays, we'd been approached by two different guys begging. When the sergeant called, we were down near Tesco's and while we talked to him about how the problems on the high street stemmed from the betting shops or certainly weren't helped by them, another beggar aggressively demanded five quid from our companion.
Hearing this exchange, the sergeant asked where we were and it turned out his PCs were in the area (in fact they were in Tescos) so he asked us to tell them to check the guy out and they later had a chat with the big guy in the white and red leather jacket (with "Racing" emblazoned on it) who was by now down by the anchor after standing outside BetterBet for a while (with empty pockets). Walking back later, we saw the PCs were outside Coral's 'chatting' to a skinny black guy, then a black woman hurried past and cried urgently, "The guy with the rucksack at the bank – he's just said he was going to shoot up the bank" (even though the bank was shut and it was night-time).
One of the PCs hurried up the street, but the woman didn't come with him to show him which guy or which bank, so he wasn't sure who he was after, especially as it was really quite dark and the street lighting is rather poor and most shops, not being Paddy Power with tons of money to spend, do not have illuminated signs. There was a guy with a rucksack looking completely normal at the HSBC cashpoint, but the PC came upon the other bloke who'd been begging all day and was still begging now between the HSBC, Barclays and Housewives Cash n' Carry (the black guy with the obvious mental health problems who sometimes sells the Big Issue and can sometimes look dementedly threatening). Meanwhile, rucksack man (who had frightened the black woman) may have just been having a really bad day, or maybe the 'frightened black woman' was a mate of the black guy that the PCs were talking to at Coral, and she had created a diversion that split up the two-man police team to let her man get away.
You really do not want to know. But rest assured, none of the crime on the High Street is really Crime (it wasn't organised) and nor is it Disorder, as defined by the 2005 Gambling Act. Of course it was both, but it happened outside a bookies and not inside, so of course they're not responsible.
We left the scene...All that before 6pm.
Sgt Alger agreed with us that the last thing his team needed was another betting shop. They didn't need the ones we've got already either. He had been given notice of the new one but felt there was little he could do. His superiors were aware of his concerns. By all means, I could quote him, but there would be little point in him putting pen to paper for the sake of the License Hearing since it would make no difference. By then we knew there was a fait accompli about the granting of the Betfred licence, so we didn't press him. (Besides which the conversation was extremely difficult because we had his PCs' attention by then and had to grass up 'Racing' man in full view of the Anchor Alchies who are pretty hardcore).
He seemed genuinely concerned and similarly frustrated at his lack of powers. They had managed to get an ASBO going through on the Chinese guy who has been hassling people all last week. (He's the one who comes up to you and stands in your face pointing at his round open mouth whilst managing to say 'Food' – it's quite a sad encounter). Apparently lots of people had complained, although, Sgt Alger pointed out, very few are willing to come forward with statements, which are necessary for the present ASBO law to work (if it's anything like Lewisham Homes' application of the law, ahem, it's absolutely useless). We didn't have time to discuss whether Cameron's new ASBO would be any better – or worse, depending where you stand.
Strangely he knew nothing of the elderly black woman who has been standing outside Kim's for the past year making a nuisance of herself. Everybody who works in the market knows her, although she's been absent recently. She is definitely one poor old lady who will take a gratefully received donation straight over to the betting shop. Perhaps she's had her last bet.
Move along there, capitalism is in town...
So, anyway, it appears that when it comes to betting shops, Lewisham (like Hackney, Haringey, Tottenham, Islington, Ealing and even Chinatown plus all over the UK) just take it lying down now, not even the hint of an objection.
Nearly 700 signatures (collected in the space of two weeks) will make no difference to this particular outcome. If you signed the petition, please take a look at what the insufferable Betfred have prepared in repost to our objections, to see how Lewisham take it lying down.
Watch while the Tories (it could have been Labour) allow the Tote to establish their banking offshore before they sell it off to the highest bidder (Betfred and Coral being hotly tipped), and if you wondered why half the proceeds will go to the racing industry, that will be because they're desperate to abolish the Levy, a tax the bookmakers can't wait to be rid of because the betting industry doesn't give a fuck about racing, which it has been paying for for half a century or more via the Levy. The bookies now just want you to play those machines in their shops which makes them so-o-o-o much money they don't worry about paying UK tax, or make silly bets online about football and Whooohoo-just-get-the-i-phone-App and take a bet on anything, for which they'll pay no tax at all.
Move along there, with your morals an' all...
A big fat nothing is what the betting industry gives the communities it feeds on – but that is no grounds for objection. Communities mean nothing to the betting industry, who would laugh in your face and all the way to the bank if you start talking about morals. If you object to a betting shop on religious grounds, you're probably Muslim – the industry doesn't even recognise the sensitivities and beliefs of those in the Church of England, let alone those of other faiths living in the areas where they love to prey. Morals mean nothing to this money grabbing bunch of opportunists who can't wait to get their hands on your dole money, your weekly play, your rent money, your mortgage money, your holiday money, your savings, your piggy bank, whilst justifying their human rights to 'simply display normal market behaviour in the same way that fast food takeaways, estate agents, car dealers or pubs and bars seek to compete against one another in convenient locations where there is a strong demand for their facilities'.
What complete and utter bollocks. You don't go into a takeway, give them money and come out with nothing to eat. You don't go in any other shop, hand over money and come out with nothing. If you come out with total shite, you have rights. If you don't like what you bought you can usually get a refund. Gambling is completely different from almost every retail model except perhaps a bar, where you come out with nothing except drunk and maybe a potential shag. Mobile phones and broadband are perhaps the nearest comparison after that – another black hole in dire need of regulation...
No point in studying the form of the People of Deptford. We are always the losers. Whilst most people seem to think Lewisham is 'throwing the fight', it seems from all evidence in other boroughs, towns and cities that they are not, unless you think that every borough, town and city in the country has got corrupt officials, or completely useless lawyers working for them that can't fight off the tenacious bookies that go to appeal. Not one borough has been able to stop this, yet. Let's not pay the lawyers any more, they're as rich as bankers. Change the law instead.
Wouldn't it be great if Lewisham bet on themselves at the Betfred hearing on Wednesday and then backed out of the deal that makes them lie down. At the present odds, if every Lewisham citizen put a tenner on the People of Deptford to win and the council bet the Mayor and Barry Quirk's salary, and then the Licensing Committee said NO TO BETFRED, we'd all win enough to see Betfred out of town.