"This Type of Crime is Rare"

Police reassure residents after fatal shooting on Christmas eve

Police and local politicians moved to reassure residents on Thursday (February 12) that violent crimes were rare events, following the Christmas eve murder of a young man in Loftus Road.

20-year-old Craig Brown was shot dead in the W12 street in December as he unloaded Christmas presents from his car. Two teenage boys have been charged with the murder.

The investigating officer into the case, Trident Detective Inspector Kenny MacDonald, told residents that fatal shootings in broad daylight were not a common occurrence: “Rest assured, this type of crime is rare,” he said. “The last incident in the borough was 18-months or two years ago.

“The investigation is ongoing. We have arrested and charged two juveniles,” he confirmed. For legal reasons, he was unable to say what might be behind the killing but said a revenge attack was unlikely. “I feel the risk of retaliation in this area is very, very low,” MacDonald said.

At a Loftus Road Neighbourhood Watch meeting, Borough Commander Detective Chief Superintendent Kevin Hurley said crime rates in the borough were going down: “On virtually every area of crime we measure, it's going down. The borough is far safer than elsewhere across London.”

But several residents said they did not see as many police out on the streets as they used to and wanted to know why the Shepherd's Bush police station appeared to be closed overnight. “Your closing down of bad houses is good but your visible presence is very bad,” said one resident.

In response, Hurley said the area had a dedicated plain-clothed police team who patrolled the area in unmarked cars and that the borough had a 30-strong robbery squad. “We actively go after gangs and drug dealers,” he said. “The police station operates 24 hours a day. Even if you need us at 3am, officers are there. The counter is not manned because we would have to take someone off the street. We want to use our resources more effectively,” he added. Metropolitan Police Inspector Bill Heasman confirmed that the number of constables out on the streets had not been reduced: “There are no fewer police on the streets than there were 18 months ago,” he told residents.

Referring to the Christmas eve shooting, Shepherd's Bush MP Andy Slaughter was also keen to emphasise that such crimes were rare: “Any violent death is a tragedy. On Askew Road, there have been two violent deaths over the past five years but these are rare events and this is a safe borough. The trend in crime is going down and it has been going down for a long time.”

On local policing initiatives, H&F Cabinet member for Crime and Street Scene, Cllr Greg Smith, said the round-the-clock policing pilot in Shepherd's Bush Green, which began in April 2007 and was due to last two years, would continue for a further two years. “The 24/7 pilot in the Shepherd's Bush Green ward has been very successful. Westfield has added 400 crimes to the ward since it opened but virtually all of them are shoplifting,” he said.

Another policing initiative, which is due to begin locally in June, is the arrival of a dedicated squad to patrol the transport interchanges at Westfield. “If teenagers see a uniformed presence early in the day, evidence shows that they're likely to behave for the rest of the day,” said Kit Malthouse, Deputy Mayor of London for Policing and Shepherd's Bush's representative in the Greater London Assembly. Hurley said the extra officers would also have a positive impact on regular policing in the area: “The squad to man the bus hub will free up the 24/7 team so that they can fan out across the rest of the ward,” he said.

Despite the measures being taken, some residents said they did not feel particularly reassured and wanted more answers. Reverend Dr Bob Mayo of the Church of St Stephen and St Thomas and QPR's chaplain said: “People's concerns were met with London-wide answers,” he said. “Why did we have these two things (the shooting and an earlier stabbing) happen in Loftus Road? They (the police) legally weren't able to answer the one question we wanted to know.” Mayo said some of his parishoners had been particularly affected by the events: “One member of my congregation witnessed the stabbing and another witnessed the shooting,” he said.

Resident Peitson Shillingford said that to prevent crime, he believed young people needed to be kept busy and active: “The only crime I'm concerned about is black-on-black violence. If the youth have got nothing to do and nowhere to go.....we need to open more youth clubs so they can use their energy. Then they wouldn't even think about committing crime. They need activities, activities, activities,” he said. He said that when budget cuts were made, the first thing to go always seemed to be youth clubs and activities for children. “When I was growing up there was the London Federation Boys' Clubs. Sulgrave is the only one that survived. I don't feel reassured because they (the authorities) can't do much,” he said.

Panel members conceded that law enforcement would do little to solve the reasons for crime: “The truth is, policing is a sticking plaster over the problem,” said Malthouse. “We need a cultural change,” he said, adding that Mayor Boris Johnson's action plan on crime involved working on absenteeism in schools, and the spread of more disciplined activities such as Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

“It's not just about getting police on the streets,” said Cllr Greg Smith. He said academic research had identified reasons why people are more likely to commit crime: a lack of aspiration, lack of opportunity and lack of a father figure for boys. “As a council we can go part way to tackling this,” he said, indicating that the new Hammersmith Academy would provide a better education for more local children, giving them higher aspirations, and that Westfield had created thousands of jobs.

But Shepherd's Bush MP Andy Slaughter said the measures would have little impact on the immediate area: "We're not in the catchment area of the Academy and I don't agree that Westfield has been a success in terms of jobs. 200 or 300 local jobs out of 7,000,” he said.

Yasmine Estaphanos

13 February 2009