On New Year's Day, Crossfields residents were greeted with the shocking news that a 'violent assault' had taken place on the estate the night before, when police conducted a door-to-door enquiry asking for witnesses. Information was vague: was it a young woman or teenager? Between 3am to 6am or was it nearer 5am? Was it a rape? Where exactly? Was it a resident? (Apparently not)...
The grassy area behind Wilshaw was taped off by police, a small tent was erected and a patrol car sat nearby on Creekside for three or more days. No further information was forthcoming, although a small number of Wilshaw House residents received an incident notice through their doors the following week. No one else did, so if you were out on New Year's Day (or tucked up in bed with a hangover and didn't answer the door), you'd be none the wiser.
Several young (and not so young) women artists frequent APT and Arthub Studios right next to the crime scene but neither of these premises were informed. Creative types work odd hours and holidays, so likewise, Cockpit Arts further along the street. On New Year's Eve, the Birds Nest pub was open all night. Did one of their punters get followed home from the pub? This blogger was walking home carefree from the night bus in New Cross at 4 in the morning but not via Creekside. Crosswhatfields resorted to Twitter to find out more, but Lewisham MPS (@MPSLewisham) knew nothing.
On 2nd January, the Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) launched an appeal on Twitter, which the Deptford Dame retweeted (otherwise we would not have seen it):
"Detectives are appealing for information and witnesses after a woman was seriously assaulted in Deptford in the early hours of New Year's Day. Police were called to a south London hospital at 06.20hrs on Friday 1 January, after a woman had been brought to the hospital by family members. The victim, aged in her late teens, remains in a stable condition. Enquiries continue to establish if there was any sexual motive for the attack. As such, the investigation is being led by detectives from the Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command. At this stage, officers must retain an open mind as to any motive. Police enquiries are ongoing to establish the circumstances. Officers are appealing for anyone who saw anything suspicious in the area of Creekside and Deptford Church Street between 03:00hrs and 06:00hrs on Friday 1 January to contact the incident room on 020 8721 4617. To remain anonymous, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."This was retweeted by 125 of its 380,000 followers (0.03%). @MPSLewisham tweeted the appeal on Jan 3rd and got 5 retweets from its 23,000 followers (0.02%).
On Sunday 3rd, a resident found a pair of nearly new women's boots in one of the rubbish bins not that far from the incident site – which seemed to indicate that not much of a search of the surrounding area had taken place. She handed these to the waiting patrol car but, having been disturbed from their mobile phone games, its occupants were more concerned that she'd crossed through the police tape and "contaminated" the incident site. The following week, a police van unloaded a team to 'search' the grassy area but did not search the rest of the estate; one rookie was overheard saying "What on earth are we expected to find if they've already looked here?".
To date, Crossfields residents have been given no further information. There have been no incident notices pinned up or delivered. Female residents might assume the assailant had been found and that it's safe to leave their homes – or alternatively, they may still be extremely worried, or they may not be aware there was any danger at all. We now see that two further appeals were tweeted by the Met on 11th Jan, but were not necessarily seen or retweeted by local tweeters. This time the Met was releasing a CCTV image of a man they wanted to speak to. 4 seconds of CCTV video was available to view, although no information was given as to where it was filmed. The image was retweeted 55 times, the appeal 70 times. This was quite a development in the case, but Lewisham MPS did not tweet or retweet it at all.
|Click to enlarge|
This time the Met's appeal read: "Detectives are appealing for help to identify and trace a man seen on CCTV. They are also appealing for anyone who was in the area at the time of the offence to contact them with what they saw or heard. In particular they would like to speak to two potential witnesses who would have been in the immediate vicinity of Creekside, at the junction with Deptford Church Street, between 04:50hrs and 04:55hrs...Did you see anyone acting suspiciously or running in the street? Do you know the man in these images? If you are this man we would like to speak with you..."
Three weeks after the attack, the tape and tent had been removed. Rather oddly, residents as far away as St Johns got a leaflet through their doors about the assault – with SERIOUS RAPE typed in big black letters on it but not much more info than that – yet already more info than we were getting in Creekside!
Earlier this week, the incident site was visited by people in suits (rather than uniforms), which seems to have heralded more news...Today, the News Shopper reported: Women urged to keep safe after violent Deptford assault linked to others in south London, as police suggest sexual motive.
The story also appeared in the Evening Standard. From this report, we now know that the Deptford victim was 18 years old, was attacked from behind before being physically assaulted, suffered injuries to her head and face, and no property was stolen. Two incidents in Peckham earlier in December are being linked because the assaults were similar, though the victims are much older. Police have suggested there was sexual motive even though none of the attacks were actually sexual. According to the Met's latest appeal (also today, co-inciding with their press release), 'intelligence work' led to the link, and "while currently there is no forensic evidence linking them as sexual attacks, all three are now being investigated by the Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command's Serious and Complex Case Team".
This news has been tweeted by Lewisham MPS today and has so far been retweeted 10 times. They also retweeted the Met's tweet. The CCTV photo isn't any clearer but can now be recognised as Deptford Church Street near the Broadway, so the suspect (or not) is heading south from the Birds Nest roundabout...
|Click to enlarge|
Not everyone reads the News Shopper or other local papers (especially when they're not delivered free like they are elsewhere in the borough), and certainly not everyone is on Twitter. And even if they were, not everyone's following the police, and apart from that, it's easy to miss one single tweet. The Met tweet about crime all over London and much of it is irrelevant to locals, who might like to know what dangers lurk locally. You'd expect local crime news to come from local police. But the point (if you haven't guessed) is that this dependence on Twitter (to which you cannot report crime and which is not staffed 24 hours) takes precedence over more conventional methods: there are no incident notices pinned up anywhere in the area whatsoever – nothing in shop windows or bars, for instance, where people might actually see the appeal and respond if they can.
In this assault case, it appears the (centralised) investigating team are not making the most of local police resources to gather evidence by way of witness appeals via conventional methods, and the local police are the last to know what the (centralised) investigating team are up to regarding a crime on their own patch.* Why are we only hearing about it tonight on BBC London News – or reading about it in The Standard – ONE ENTIRE MONTH AFTER the same image of a possible suspect had already been presented on Twitter (when it concerned only one woman in Deptford)?
Why are these crimes are being investigated by the 'Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command's Serious and Complex Case Team' ? Who are those guys? Isn't their remit rather too broad to be effective (it includes sex trafficking and peodophilia)? The link with the Peckham attacks is most strange considering how many assaults go on all the time, and we wonder if police resourcing is so deranged (by Tory cuts?) that they've had to create or hype up the links and suspicion of sexual motive to gain access to funds for publicity otherwise not available. After all, men DO assault women without thoughts of raping them, but perhaps the press don't pick up on a story unless it is sexually related? Or can't the Met understand that some men just like hitting women?
And why were constables assigned to sit in a patrol car for days on end guarding the taped off site and playing mobile phone games when they could have been doing more door-to-door? And more importantly, why wasn't the advice below – that appeared in the News Shopper and Evening Standard today – circulated to all local women back in early January?
• Prepare and consider your travel arrangements carefully and ensure someone knows where you are going, who you are with and when you might be home.
• Look as assertive as you can, walk with confidence and be aware of your surroundings and who is around you.
• Avoid short cuts and dark isolated areas, vary your routine and be discreet handling cash, phones and wearing jewellery in a public place.
• Never take your safety for granted and look after your friends so that they don’t become vulnerable. Remember your personal safety is more important than your phone or other valuables.
• Keep your bags close to you and secured with zips closed. Check your belongings and your pockets regularly.
• Wearing headphones and talking on the phone can make you unaware of your immediate surroundings - this makes you appear vulnerable and gives an advantage to a criminal.
• If you feel uneasy about an individual or situation, trust your instincts and leave the area and head towards a public place such as a shop.BE SAFE.
(Edited and update 12 Feb 2016)
This very same LACK OF INFORMATION from local police led to a spate of burglaries (at least 9 in 8 weeks) on Crossfields last year while scaffolding was up. Because very few people knew they were happening and didn't take extra precautions, the opportunistic thieves just kept coming back. While it was not newsworthy enough for Twitter, no one even knew which local SNT team were dealing with the crimes – it should have been New Cross SNT, but Evelyn SNT often responded (thanks to misinformation from Lewisham Homes). Neither team knew what crimes the other team was investigating. Evelyn SNT's monthly online crime map did not cover Crossfields, and New Cross SNT's map did not report those dealt with by Evelyn. The full extent of the robberies cannot be viewed (and the crime maps are in any case collated a month behind rather than in real time). Lewisham Homes did very little to let anyone know how vulnerable we were, and refused to accept the burglaries were happening as a result of the dark cover provided by the scaffolding they'd put up and were responsible for (and which, when the scaffold was also used for access to back windows, was not alarmed). And, of course, no one knows if anyone was caught...