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Twenty thousand drug deals on five InLink phone kiosks in 15 weeks

Drug dealers arranged 20,000 sales on just five BT InLink phone kiosks in the deprived London borough of Tower Hamlets over a 15-week monitoring period, according to a police report filed with the local authority last week.

London’s Metropolitan Police Service filed the report to object to BT’s request to install more of its futuristic InLink units in the borough, because the kiosks have a free phone facility that crack and heroin addicts have been using as a convenient way to set up a quick fix with their local dealer.

“A recent investigation found that over a 105-day period five of these units were used over 20,000 times in connection with drug misuse,” wrote PC Kevin Hook, an officer in the Designing Out Crime unit at the Tower Hamlets police station in Bow.

An average of 20 drug deals were done every day, on a handful of kiosks on central streets amidst dense areas of social housing in the central London areas of Whitechapel, Bethnal Green and Commercial Road.

BT is rolling out the units in partnership with InLinkUK to replace conventional phone boxes in busy urban areas. They offer free public Wi-Fi, fast mobile phone charging and access to maps, local information, directory services and quick links to some charity helplines, as well as free calls to UK landlines and mobiles, all funded by revenue from advertising on their large screens. 

Last week BT disabled free calls on InLinks it has already installed in the borough, after police and local officials, under pressure from local residents, presented evidence they had become a cause of anti-social behaviour. They called upon BT to stop its devices being used by drug dealers.

But a Met police spokesman acknowledged that the move was a gesture designed to placate residents, and would only serve to push the problem back into the shadows.

A council official commented that the local authority had lost a way of bringing crucial help to addicts who congregated at the kiosks.

“The review is not about whether drug dealing as a crime is reduced in the neighbourhood, but is more about resident satisfaction,” said a Metropolitan Police spokesman.

“I don’t think it promises to be a silver bullet in terms of tackling the problem of drug dealing in the area. If it’s not going to happen there, it’s going to happen somewhere else.

“But we’ve had residents come back, saying, it’s emanating from these boxes and the reason why is the calls are free.”

Because anyone can use them to make free local calls they offer anonymity, which is an obvious attraction for people who want to hide their activities.

In Tower Hamlets InLinkUK has agreed to stop its kiosks giving free calls to mobile phones for six weeks over Christmas and New Year, in order to establish what difference it would make to the anti-social behaviour that has alarmed some residents.

But neither InLinkUK nor the local authority would say how they expected to determine whether stopping the calls had been effective when the result was merely that drug addicts no longer came to the kiosks to place their orders.

BT InLink and Tower Hamlets Borough Council both refused to discuss the matter. They issued written statements that said they had agreed to “monitor” what difference it would make to switch the phones off.

Councillor Faroque Ahmed, who represents people in the Whitechapel ward, said the free calls had made it easier for drug addicts to place orders with their dealers. This had brought people from out of town, he said. “There are some local people, but God knows where [the others] come from,” said Councillor Ahmed.

“The volume of drug dealing is totally unacceptable. Police are not doing enough. I don’t blame them because government cuts are damaging the whole thing. We used to have eleven dedicated police in Whitechapel. Currently I believe there is just four, including community support officers and a sergeant who covers Stepney Green as well. The police are trying their best,” he said.

PC Hook’s report said the anti-social behaviour associated with InLink kiosks included not just drug dealing but defecating and urinating in the street, and aggressive begging.

“This behaviour often occurs in the middle of busy streets with local residents, tourists and more importantly children being witness to what takes place,” he wrote.

“The Metropolitan Police have liaised with InLink and agreed for a trial period which everyone hopes will reduce the misuse of these units.

“Until this trial has proven or disproven the link to the issues being seen we are unable to support any further units being installed,” he said.

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