Alexander Chancellor's Week

Safety First
Feb. 1 2002 3:37 PM

Alexander Chancellor's Week

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It's been a pretty ghastly week, and I'm glad it's now coming to an end. The weather has been frightful and London has been bathed in almost perpetual gloom. Yesterday was the deadline for everyone in Britain to pay their taxes or face a fine, which hasn't added to the spirit of gay abandon in which this city, even in the height of summer, is notoriously lacking. And then there was the gang shoot-out near to my home in Hammersmith that I mentioned yesterday. My fears turn out to have been justified when I said I was worried that London's gun-touting gangs were no longer confining themselves to traditional no-go areas. The Evening Standard has followed it up with an investigation showing that, while most gun crime in London used to be confined to six of its 32 boroughs, Scotland Yard's Trident gang-busting task force investigated incidents last year in 30 of them. In Haringey, always a hot spot, the problem has got so bad that all its policemen, including those confined to traffic duty, were recently issued with body armour. Altogether last year, there were 36 gun murders in London, a 44 per cent increase on the year before, and 67 attempted murders; while the use of guns in muggings rose by more than 50 per cent. So much for good old safe, sleepy London.  

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It is of no comfort that most of this crime wave seems to be generated by immigrants from abroad. Apart from the Jamaican "Yardies," who are still the most feared because of their casual indifference in their gun battles to the safety of bystanders, the police say that a lot of other immigrant groups are now engaging in organised crime in the capital. There are the Turkish gangs, who dominate heroin trafficking in London, increasingly numerous Asian gangs, and new gangs of Central- and Eastern-European origin. The Albanians, in particular, have become a force in the city, having more or less taken control of prostitution in Soho. The National Criminal Intelligence Service estimates that there are now around 400 gangs operating in and around London, generating an annual turnover of more than £25 billion ($35 billion) a year. One feels that London could do with a mayor like Rudolph Giuliani rather than Ken Livingstone, who has not even made any progress toward his declared goal of reducing the number of pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

To make London feel even less safe, the Ministry of Defence has announced that it is grounding the squadron of 15 Tornado F3 fighter planes that is entrusted with protecting London from terrorist attacks. It says this is because the country doesn't have enough fighter pilots, which is odd; for being a fighter pilot is every schoolboy's dream. So the protection of London will now be entrusted to another squadron in Yorkshire, 250 miles to the north, from which the flying time to the capital is 25 minutes. I hope al-Qaida hasn't heard about this. I am going back to the country in Northamptonshire for the weekend and, under the circumstances, you must not be surprised if I stay there for a little while.

Alexander Chancellor is a co-editor of Slate UK.