Saturday, February 5, 2011

Move along there - Police notebook - Betfred update

This week, Crosswhatfields was contacted by a Reuter's UK Equities editor for our view on the betting shop situation. This suggests there may be concern among the many investors in the area about the direction our high street is taking with the advent of yet another betting shop.

Whilst some may scorn the arrival of the developers, perhaps they may prove influential in halting the decline. And pigs may fly.

New people are moving into Greenwich SE8 (ha, ha) and finding not much to do locally without fear of being mugged and the value of their property plummeting. Although Lewisham planners are going large on regenerating the business heart of Lewisham town centre with their massive development on Lewisham Vale, it has always seemed that in Deptford they were merely building a dormitory from which city workers would be able escape on the DLR every day and not come home till they were ready for bed.

Meanwhile, look away now if you are of a nervous disposition or are about to renew your insurance premiums. We've been on the website looking at the Deptford crime map...It's December 2010 and it's not looking good for Creekside or the High Street.

On the No To Betfred campaign trail, we tried to get in touch with our local neighbourhood police, since one of the grounds for objecting to a Betting Licence application is to link gambling with crime and disorder.

Surely they would be able to confirm that the high street was getting a bit messy with an increase in begging, petty theft, street drinking, drug dealing and antisocial behaviour mainly outside betting shops, and this was increasing their workload unnecessarily? I mean, we don't want to exaggerate the crime in the area because it makes residents fearful and businesses suffer, but honestly, it is getting worse, isn't it, and don't you feel frustrated that the law in its present form that allows betting shops to open up whereever whenever makes it harder for you to do your job?

Oh, and by the way, how is it you were up on Ha'Penny Hatch three days running but not when someone got mugged (but that's another story)....

Notice in the following maps, if you dare, that there's a lot of stuff going on in side streets, ie just off the high street, in the dark, round the corner from a bookies.

14th January:
Three weeks ago, we emailed the New Cross Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT) to ask if they could provide us with any statistics of incidents that related directly or indirectly to betting shops, since shopkeepers, traders and the local community were witnessing an increase in crime that they perceive is related to betting shops.

We asked that they treat our enquiry with some urgency since we hoped to include any information they could provide in an objection to the latest Betting Licence application by Betfred that had to be in by January 19th.

We also noted that many petty thefts were not reported by local shopkeepers because of the disruption in business that was caused. For instance staff in Greggs the bakers had been told by head office not to confront the daily shoplifting by junkies barging through the lunchtime queue (full of local schoolkids) to the cold cabinet to steal sandwiches. Other shops sometimes catch a thief red-handed only to end up in a totally embarrassing scene fighting outside their premises with their thief. Many shopkeepers quietly watch a shoplifter take a small item and go straight to the bookies opposite.

The shopkeeper inevitably finds another way to compensate for the loss, and suddenly something that was £1.99 is £2.10. Of course in the present climate, no one is surprised to see the 99p shop selling items at £1.20. In the present climate, the dry cleaner is paying 4 times as much for his dry cleaning fluid as he did last year, but cannot increase his prices without losing customers. He's never had a competitor because up till now Deptford folk can't afford to dry clean that often. God forbid there might be people who want it all the time, because if word gets out and with Lewisham Planning in (read: out of) control, before long there could be wall-to-wall dry cleaners. Or not. That's his fear and his fantasy and his dread. His offering of sewing and mending could keep him unique, but...

Meanwhile, amidst the downturn, a high street selling it cheap might do better where bargains are to be had. That has always been Deptford's secret. But new shoppers and visitors are unlikely to return and loyal shoppers unlikely to report to the police the number of times they have been asked for money by numerous beggars, and how they found it unpleasant. The more well travelled the resident or visitor, perhaps the more compartmentalised they may treat their visit to the high street, they'll be used to the begging in third world countries, but they may find it rather shocking that it is a young Chinese or Vietnamese boy poking them and then pointing to his mouth to be fed. They may even think it funny to be offered a stolen jar of coffee by a white geezer who looks like something out of Fools & Horses.

For the local community it is an enormous source of shame and it makes everyone who works there feel dirty. It's completely unsuitable for children.

But perhaps the Wire-style drug dealing outside betting shops (complete with overgrown boys on tiny bikes) hasn't quite got to the trendy levels it needs to get to achieve Brixton-like status yet...perhaps we need even more open drug dealing to make newcomers feel like they've found a funky new groove... 

Ten days later: 24th January:
We received a response from the "Business Support Unit". "Apologies for the late response...due to you sending this direct to the SNT mailbox".  (Er...that's the email address you give out on the Lewisham Met website). It then twittered: "Unfortunately we are unable to issue the information you requested."

We asked why this information wasn't available. The Haiku/Twitter answer: "Because you do not hold an Information Sharing Protocol with us."

We asked if it would be available to a Councillor, or a member of the Community Police Consultative Group? Could they point us in the right direction? No answer.

25th January:
We got a surprise email from the office of Freedom of Information Quality, Assurance and Compliance Team | Security Standards and Architecture | Directorate of Information | Public Access Office | Metropolitan Police Service (based in SW6).

It was a seemingly helpful email which said we'd been given the wrong information by the 'Business Support Unit' and that the Freedom of Information Act allows a right to request the information we had asked for, and if the question was framed in a different way, it may or may not be answered within 20 days. We were advised how to ask our question and to provide a list of the betting shops in question. We were also pointed to the Met Crime map ( which we already knew about, the London pre-trial to this week's new

We followed his advice and got an acknowledgement the next day which confirmed we might not get the info we wanted, nor in 20 days.

It was already too late anyway. If someone had replied when our first email went to New Cross SNT, we might have had an answer in time for the hearing on 9th Feb, but we were already in the middle of a Kafkaesque nightmare just by choosing to object. Nothing was made easy by any authority we had to deal with including Lewisham Licensing, Lewisham councillors, Lewisham Council, let alone the police. Faced with such fuckwittery it could only get better.

The only good news was finding out what other boroughs in north London are doing to combat the problem, more in another post. Locally it got worse. It was possibly the worst week to try and get information out of the police when they were too busy giving information out.

26th January:
We had also been advised by the FOI chap that we might contact our local SNTs via Lewisham Police station and were given a special email address, which we duly followed up. The Information & IT Support Manager at Lewisham Police Station replied: "The contact for the local SNT Teams can be found on the Lewisham page of the MPS website." (Yes, we tried that 2 weeks ago, we've been in a complete circle, mate)..."I have copied your emails to the two police sergeants for New Cross and Evelyn Wards."
(Ta ra-a-a!)

27th January:
The sergeant at Evelyn SNT replied that he'd be happy to meet or talk over the phone. We arranged to meet at his convenience on 31st January at the Evelyn SNT office. Nothing from New Cross SNT.

31st January:
The sergeant was friendly but more than a little distracted by the ongoing walkie-talkie conversations of his PCSOs who had just gone out on a recce. He was rather noncommittal about crime on the high street and how it related to betting shops on his beat, which are the north of the high street and in the Evelyn triangle plus one nearer Surrey Quays (6 in all but spread out). We pointed out that with reference to the Met's crime map, crime had risen in the north of the high street in December. He said that it was a 'spike' and that when they got the perpetrators who were usually the same well known faces and put them away, crime went down. Then when these people got out of jail after a short sentence, crime would spike again. He would say nothing about the south of the high street (even though we have seen him patrol it).

"What group do you represent?" asked the sergeant. Er, the high street and everyone who uses it? The PC with us during the conversation gave us a fridge magnet with their phone number on it. The number is 020 7161 9390.

Funnily enough it is the same number as the Lewisham Met website gives out for New Cross SNT. We called it later. It rang for a long time and no one answered. The same website gives a mobile number to ring (07843 065920). A ringing tone ended in disconnection.

1st February:
We rang the New Cross SNT number again (which is also the number given to us by Evelyn SNT). Finally came the answer, "Hello, Casualty Bureau, Hendon".

Sorry, wrong number, dial again. The same cheerful Geordie we now know as Dexie at Hendon Met Casualty said he'd been having a lot of misdirected calls.

Since the new Crime Mapping site had just gone online and crashed, it didn't seem surprising that other Met communications were fucking up.

Back to the Lewisham Met website page. According to the website, the New Cross team would be having a "Drop in Surgery" at DAGE in Deptford High Street between 10 and 11am the next day. We couldn't make that so we thought we'd go to their next surgery at Sainsbury's in New Cross 1-2pm the same day.

We emailed the New Cross team copying in the sergeant at Evelyn, saying we'd try and catch the New Cross sergeant at Sainsbury's the next day at their "drop in surgery" and if the New Cross sergeant wasn't going to be there could he please email back.

2nd February:
Nothing from the New Cross sergeant. We went down at 1.30pm to Sainsbury's. No one there. Sainsbury's Customer Services had FUCK ALL in their diary to do with the Safer Neighbourhood Team, they knew nothing about it. The car park was devoid of any signs or police officers.

Luckily it was not a wasted journey since before venturing out we had thought to empty the 2 year piggy bank savings of 1p and 2p pieces and deposit them in the coin exchange machine onsite. It was eerily similar to the sound of a gambling slot machine as the coins clattered in and began registering not just the estimated £5, but maybe £7, and then we passed £10 to get to the grand total of £14.98.

The machine takes 9p in every £1, so it's probably not the best way of saving, but you don't have to bag it up like you'd have to at your bank. Despite the shocking rate of interest it was a bonus, and there was enormously enjoyable irony in this particular exchange: we came to find coppers and found none, but we brought some with us and turned them into fifteen quid.

Back in Deptford we had to go and put a petition in The Albany. A week before, the marketing officer there had refused to have it. "If we take your petition, we'll have to take everyone's" was the line at the time. Now their position had changed, thanks to the intervention of someone more senior.

On the way, in the Douglas Way market, we spotted a couple of bobbies. Sorry, I mean New Cross SNT PCs. We pounced. "We've just been up at Sainsbury's looking for you and you weren't there!". Yes we were, they said. No you weren't, we said, we've just been there. "We were there from midday till 1pm". Er, that's not what it says on the Lewisham SNT website, we pointed out, but no matter, we have you now! "What did you want to see us about?" asked the PC who is like Dixon of Dock Green to Deptford High Street, everyone knows him.

We wanted to ask your sergeant to make a statement about how all the stuff that's going on now in the high street is linked to the betting shops. "Oh yes," both PCs nodded, "it's a problem, but why did you want a statement?"....because we've put in an objection to the new Betfred and we need back up from you guys..."Oh yes," they nodded, "we don't want that, last year we all of us made statements against the betting shop at the Deptford Arms, each one of us"...

WHAT??!!! Oh, so d'you think if we ring your sergeant he'll be able to have you do the same thing again? "Well you can try, give him a ring on...020 7161 9390"

No man, that number's fucked. "No, it's the right number, really, here's a card"...and he gives me a postcard with the number clearly printed on it.

OK, now we've been getting Hendon Casualty all week on that number, we're practically going out with Dexie now, we've had more conversations than most people have on any online dating service before they get married. Not that we don't want to talk to Dexie, but maybe the Met has sorted the exchange problems and we can talk to the sergeant at New Cross SNT now?

During and after another meeting (a living must be earned), we ring 020 7161 9390. No answer. And then Hello, Casualty Hendon. Dexie again. We promise not to ring him again, nothing personal.

He gives us another number. He's reported the problem and he's been given the number of Brockley SNT. We ring the number 020 8649 3599. It goes dead. 

Later on we try to find out how much the council gets paid from Betting Licences, based on a casual comment from Evelyn Ward SNT. We make online contact with Cllr Bell, hoping for a sane voice. We end up gravely insulting Cllr Bell over a completely unrelated but equally blood boiling matter.

3rd February:
Fuck'em all. Who's in charge? A load of fuckwits. Spend the day with people who agree with this general theme.

4th February:
We look at Lewisham Met website again. See a general number 0300 123 1212 that you must call if you don't want to call 999. Trust the connection will be to a central London Met exchange, so must be good enough even if we get sent round the houses.

Whoah! 0300 123 1212 gets straight through to New Cross SNT, how can I help you? though it's more like "Yeah, what do you want? You're getting in my face."

Well actually, can you ask Sergeant Mark Alger to answer his email, it's now become quite urgent. The situation was explained to the PCSO. He'll call you back, he'll answer his email when he's not busy, she said.

He didn't. Bad timing yet again. A big fire at Marine Tower, two dead, as we later found out.

Later. Looked at the spanking all new and see that the 0300 123 1212 number is quoted as the number to ring for New Cross SNT. All the numbers we've been given all week by team members are completely redundant. They don't even know themselves about this number. It's not on any fridge magnet.

Heard the sirens and saw ambulances earlier when trying to cross Deptford Church Street on way to Creek Road. Now Lewisham Homes will be in trauma as well as the Met, since it could've been a gas explosion?

Apologised for being rude to local councillor who has found out for us that Lewisham presently charge £2400 per application and a measly £480 annual fee.

Received details and papers from the Hearing Officer re Hearing for Betfred on Wednesday 9th Feb.
Includes Betfred's response to seven people's objections. Betfred have countered every objection rather predictably on the grounds that if there is antisocial behaviour, crime or whatever on the street related to other betting shops it's because the other firms aren't running a clean shop.

They on the other hand are going to run the cleanest shop ever. Nothing is going to go wrong INSIDE their shop. Anything that goes on outside is not their problem.

They fail to acknowledge who their potential customers are. And that is surely going to be a share of the clientele already using the other betting shops who supposedly manage things so badly.

Hanging out on the street annoying other people is what their potential customers do now. Why would they change their behaviour when they go into a Betfred?

Betfred can certainly blame other bookies for the present sorry state of affairs, however. When Paddy Power took over the Deptford Arms there ceased to be a place on the high street for Betfred's potential punters to go and spend time in a 'supervised and appropriate' environment. The only pubs left are now on the main road away from the more mainstream life of the high street that allowed more integration for a wider range of folk from all walks of life which to a certain extent curbed excesses. And those main road pubs are even further from the centre of the high street, so it can be assumed that with no pubs in sight that street drinking will prevail even more so around Betfred. And what can we expect at night? A return to mugging alley that the corner of HSBC used to be?

The agenda for the Licensing Committee on Wednesday 9th to also include putting up the Licensing Fee to maximum allowed by law to £3000 application and £600 annual fee. It's all chicken feed to the betting companies. We note that Lewisham think it worth noting that increasing the fee brings in extra £14000. Pathetic. That's half a holiday for Barry Quirk. But maybe enough to fight the next betting shop in court.

In desperation at not hearing from the New Cross SNT, we rang the New Cross Ward councillors, Padmore, Maslin and Long. All absent and useless as usual, except Padmore who was quick to recommend the others.

Noted that Betfred says in its application that out of all the bodies initially informed of their request for a licence (not the public) ABSOLUTELY NO ONE OBJECTED INCLUDING METROPOLITAN LICENSING.
Helpful Cllr Bell, despite not being at all well, suggested calling Lewisham Met Licensing to find out why they didn't object to the application. He's been told SNTs can only be 'consulted' but Met Licensing can 'object'. We conclude phone call at 4.45pm. Called Met Licensing but got ansaphone cos their office closed at 4pm.

Noted that only other case to be heard at same hearing on Wednesday 9th Feb is Sydenham supermarket trying to get 24hr booze licence and that only objection is from Safer Neighbourhood Team with 10-page report on crime and antisocial behaviour stats for the area.
Cllr Bell said liquor licence is different. Police are allowed more powers to intervene. The Gambling Law has to change.

Question: Who are the magistrates that preside over appeals?
Question: Why are there so many players (including some friends and politicians who refuse to sign petition) in this ridiculous charade?
Question: Why is this Human Rights clause included in the "Mandatory conditions forming part of the licence" when it is surely meaningless:

4. Legal and Human Rights implications

4.1 Licensing Authorities as defined by the Gambling Act 2005 section 1
(a) are public authorities for the purposes of the Human Rights Act
1998. Accordingly, they are under a duty to act compatibly with
convention rights in the exercise of their functions.

4.2 Article 6(1) of the Convention provides that everyone is entitled to a fair
and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and
impartial hearing established by law.

4.3 The right to apply for a licence falls within the scope of civil rights and
obligations in Article 6 (1) because it relates to the applicants’ right to
make a living and pursue commercial activity. Therefore, an applicant
for such a licence has the right to have the application determined fairly
in accordance with the guarantees contained within Article 6(1). Thus a
licence is considered to be a possession for the purposes of the
Human Rights Act 1998.

4.4 However, the right to hold a such licence is not absolute. It is a
“qualified right”. So, where the grant of a licence may affect the
interests of local residents or others, in a significant way, then article 6
(1) will be engaged. The right to hold a licence may be lawfully
interfered with where, for instance, it is in the interests of wider society
to do so.

4.5 Objectors’ rights under article 6(1) will not automatically be triggered
merely because they wish to object. The question of whether they have
a sufficient interest to engage is ultimately a question of fact.

4.6 The grant or refusal of a licence may also raise issues under article 8,
right to private and family life, article 10, freedom of expression, or
article 1 of Protocol 1 , right to peaceful enjoyment of possession. The
rights guaranteed by articles 8-11 of the Convention, are not absolute
rights. In the same way as the right to a licence is a qualified right, so
are these other rights referred to above.

4.7 Qualified rights may therefore be interfered with, provided the
interference is justified according to the conditions set out within each
article. So such interference must be legal, necessary in a democratic
society and there must be a reasonable relationship of “proportionality
between the means employed and the aim pursued”. The principle of
proportionality involves the striking of a fair balance between the
demands of the general interest of the community and the
requirements of the protection of the individual’s fundamental rights.


  1. It would be funny if it weren't so depressing. Excellent report and comment. It is particularly shocking that the police have offered no objection to the application given the problems that already exist. Councils, housing organisations, the police; all regularly complain about how difficult it is to engage local residents. I think your post demonstrates clearly why it's so difficult, particularly when we are trying to engage in non conventional ways. The time wasting and frustration involved are extreme, with limited chance of a positive outcome.

  2. Indeed. First of all, no one knows when these things are happening because there is just a notice on a window and an advert in the SLP.

    Then, making the actual objection is full of hurdles. And when I first submitted mine I got no acknowledgement for four days, called them up and was told they'd never received it...!

    And then the whole thiing's pointless because the law is an ass.

    What do you make of the Human Rights stuff? It seems to be saying the applicant has more rights than the community, or have I misunderstood?!

  3. Apparently, the Human Rights Act grants corporate entities (like BetFred) the same 'human' rights as actual human beings. Here's some kind of explanantion.
    ... incidentally, here's a theory why betting shops need late licenses.

  4. I don't think I have. San pointed us to
    God, the law is an ass.

  5. What a great report. I despair of Deptford ever managing to pull itself out of the mire when local efforts are constantly undermined by the W*****S at Lewisham council. The useless Joan Ruddock wouldn't even answer the several Emails I sent her about my concerns regarding this proliferation of betting shops, street drinkers and junkies in the High Street.
    I'm now in my fifties and all my life I've had to witness the mismanagement of this neck of the woods from relatively minor annoyances of the speed-hump plague to filling the borough with wet centres et-al and oversized yuppie dormitories. And why does it seem like other areas of London always seem to be able to successfully fight this kind of thing?

  6. Interesting piece. Keep going!

    I think on the human rights act stuff, it's just something to bear in mind. The HRA is like that - the judges have to take different things into account and weigh them up.