Weston-super-Mare ‘open ground’ for drug deals?
PUBLISHED: 09:50 29 July 2015 | UPDATED: 10:03 29 July 2015
DARK footpaths and alleyways are said to be ‘open ground’ for the sale of illegal drugs in Weston-super-Mare, where fear of arrest is ‘non-existent’, according to a senior councillor.
Police are promising Weston is not an open environment for criminal activity, but the councillor says people are increasingly coming forward to raise concerns over a perceived rise in drug dealing in Weston.
Councillor John Crockford-Hawley has also warned the town may be becoming a ‘dumping ground’ for people recovering from addiction.
He said Weston could be going back to the days where it had an over-abundance of rehab centres, and said the expanding ‘recovery industry’ is having a ‘detrimental’ effect on parts of the town centre.
But newly-appointed Chief Inspector for North Somerset Tina Robinson told the Mercury: “Weston is not open ground for drug dealing.
“If we have information there is drug dealing happening and the public tell us about it, we will respond to it.”
Cllr Crockford-Hawley has described areas of Weston, including alleyways down the side of churches, where he has been told people are selling drugs.
But police have said the perception drug dealing is on the rise is not a true reflection of the situation.
Cllr Crockford-Hawley said at a North Somerset Council meeting: “Several Weston residents have spoken to me recently about their fears of Weston’s continuing, even growing, attraction as a place to house and help those suffering from, recovering from, or attempting to recover from drug or alcohol self-abuse and the detrimental effects which some parts of this ‘recovery industry’ seem to be having on certain residential areas of the town where behaviour is said to be increasingly challenging.
“Would the executive members enquire of the police why some parts of this town are said to be open ground for the trading of illegal drugs, where fear of apprehension seems to be non-existent?”
Chief Insp Tina Robinson has a background in dealing with organised crime, including drug dealers.
She said: “Weston is not an open environment for criminal activity.
“It is a safe place for tourists and residents and if there are problems in certain areas, we want the public to tell us so we can enforce and provide safeguarding.
“There are two strands: dealing with organised crime groups and breaking into them and also about tackling the lower tier, who create that fear of crime and antisocial behaviour.
“There are the more protracted investigations which take a little bit more time.
“With some of the organised crime groups over the last few years, there has been a real impact in taking them out.”
People have voiced their concerns to Cllr Crockford-Hawley about rehab centres in Weston expanding.
He said: “There are some very visual issues in Weston.
“People are coming to Weston to sell their drugs and there is a big question to be asked about the increase interest in opening of rehab centres.
“Weston is beginning again to take on the role of a dumping ground and I am led to believe there are some other local authorities which send their more difficult residents to Weston for treatment.”
An area for concern has been the possible expansion of one Weston rehab centre, which has moved into a derelict guest house in Upper Church Road.
The council has carried out a site visit, and served a planning contravention notice to find out if there is a breach of planning.
Chief Insp Robinson said: “Drug rehabs have been reduced. Historically in Weston for some reason, the town took a huge amount of rehab centres. Those are massively reduced now.”
But the key message from police is people need to report if they see something out of the ordinary, which can include cars coming and going at all hours or people congregating in dark alleyways.
Chief Insp Robinson said: “If members of the public come to us then we can at least investigate and see if there is activity we need to be taking.
“We need people to come forward. We can send resources if something is ongoing.
“Investigations are like a jigsaw puzzle. One tiny piece may on its own seem meaningless, but we may need it for a larger investigation.
“Neighbourhood teams are working in areas more dealers operate in the community but there will be other investigations which take longer, and that’s necessary.”