Drugs problem is worse than fear of fire say Stevenage tower block residents

Police outside Harrow Court, Silam Road

Police outside Harrow Court, Silam Road - Credit: Archant

The intimidating and unsavoury world of drug use – rather than the terrifying threat of fire – is a bigger concern for people living in Stevenage’s tower blocks, residents have said.

Firefighters at the scene of a recent small fire at Harrow Court in Stevenage.

Firefighters at the scene of a recent small fire at Harrow Court in Stevenage. - Credit: Archant

When the Comet visited Brent Court and Harrow Court in Silam Road to ask residents how safe they felt in the wake of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in North Kensington, everyone we spoke to said their lives were being made a misery by drug dealers targeting the tower blocks and addicts coming in and out to score drugs.

They said young children and the elderly are having to live right next door to obvious drug users and endure unpleasant smells and sounds coming from their flats and they feel intimidated by dealers and users hanging around in the car parks outside at night.

Officers from Herts Police, Stevenage Borough Council – which owns the seven tower blocks in Stevenage – and Herts Fire and Rescue service, visited the tower blocks last Monday in an attempt to reassure people after reports that they were concerned about anti-social behaviour and drug related crime.

But with hundreds of metres of corridors and flats hidden away on high floors, it’s a notoriously tough problem to deal with.

Smoke billows from a fire that engulfed the 27-storey Grenfell Tower in west London (Picture: Rick F

Smoke billows from a fire that engulfed the 27-storey Grenfell Tower in west London (Picture: Rick Findler/PA Wire) - Credit: Archant

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One elderly couple who live at Brent Court told the us: “One day we came out and there was a bloke passed out in the corridor having overdosed. There was a needle sticking out of his arm. It was just disgusting that you should have to see that outside your front door.”

They seemed frustrated that anyone can simply buzz the front door and get let in by people in the flats regardless of why they are there.

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One woman told me: “There is no warden, so when people buzz the door, people just let them in.

“You very rarely see police here. They don’t know who is in here. People just come in and out when they feel like it.”

It seems the same difficulties which has faced emergency staff identifying the 80 people missing after the Grenfell Tower Disaster, and has made it impossible to predict the number of fatalities - makes it easier for drug dealers and users to operate.

As we were stood talking, at least five people entered the building, rushing past us with their heads down, who residents said were involved drugs.

One father told us: “My children have started saying to know what the smell of weed is like. They say to me: ‘what’s that smell daddy’ when they smell it coming out of some of the flats as it’s such a strong smell.

“When I get back from work at four in the morning it’s really intimidating because you’ve got people hanging around wearing hoodies outside in the car park.

“There is no security and while there is CCTV, it’s not monitored 24-7.”

Last Monday, police officers knocked on doors to speak to residents about their concerns and offered advice about reporting crime and passing on relevant information.

They also had a chance to sign up to OWL - the Online Watch Link, which allows them to receive up to date information from their local officers and pass information to them.

Sergeant Martin May from Herts police’s Safer Neighbourhood Team, said: “We were made aware that some of the residents in the flats were worried about anti-social behaviour and drug crime around the flats, but that no information had been passed onto us in relation to these issues. By going and talking to the residents directly we now have a clearer picture about what is happening in the area and we will be working with the council to address these issues.”

Councillor Jeannette Thomas, executive member for housing, health, and older people at Stevenage Borough Council, said: “We arranged this event in response to residents’ concerns and it proved very successful. Lots of the residents came out to talk to us, and we’re now looking at piloting a surgery-type event at Harrow and Brent Court so that we can maintain this contact with the people who live there on a regular basis.”

If you have concerns, call Herts Police on 101 or Stevenage Borough Council’s emergency out of hours line on 01438 314963.

You can email The Comet with your views to news@thecomet.net.

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