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OPINION - No one wants a sanitised city but London now feels lawless

Mayor Sadiq Khan and Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley (PA)
Mayor Sadiq Khan and Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley (PA)

On Thursday night our street WhatsApp pinged. A car had been accosted on the street by another driver who snorted a line of cocaine before getting out of his car, exposing himself threateningly and throwing rocks at the driver’s window. Neighbours sprang into action to help with video footage. What did the police say, you might ask? “This is not an emergency, so we can’t help you.”

I wish I could tell you that this is an isolated incident where I live in west London. But it seems that since Covid, crime and anti-social behaviour across the capital have skyrocketed. Women are regularly harassed in our beautiful parks, people routinely openly deal on the streets and the drug use is absolutely wild. Just last night, an innocent mother was gunned down on her Hackney doorstep in a suspected case of mistaken identity, while a 17-year-old boy was stabbed to death in a separate incident in Sutton.

Near where I live there is a man who walks up and down the street who is clearly high on powerful psychoactive drugs. Who knows how he might lash out if he needs to get a fix? My children are terrified of him.

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Cars are stolen and broken into constantly and even when the police are handed CCTV evidence with faces visible on the cameras, they often don’t investigate.

Although crime and anti-social behaviour seem more prevalent, the police are less and less visible

A neighbour recently had their car stolen, the GPS tracker showed them where it was and they had video footage of it happening. As far as they can tell, the police aren’t remotely interested. Why not? While crime overall and violent crime specifically have halved across the UK, both have risen in London, with knife crime especially a large concern. The perception among many Londoners I speak to seems to be that although crime and anti-social behaviour feel more prevalent, the police seem less and less visible.

A friend who lives in another borough complains of regularly seeing empty handbags strewn across the road and says she would never walk around the area alone at night. Another says she found a man completely naked masturbating behind her car in broad daylight.

Many people I speak to say they are planning to move out of London altogether because they don’t want to bring their children up in a crime-ridden environment. Which is such a shame because where I live the community atmosphere is incredible. We’re all on local WhatsApp groups with each other and if neighbours ever need anything everyone jumps in to help, nothing is too much trouble.

But I never see police on the streets. Who looks after the individual boroughs in London is a question that troubles me.

My local council seems to be mainly a property development company with new residential towers built every second, with no concern whatsoever as to community amenities or cohesion.

Our local MP hasn’t been nearly as visible after returning from losing the whip for saying Kwasi Kwarteng wasn’t a real black person because his views differed from what she thought a black person should think and say.

To me it seems clear Sadiq Khan isn’t remotely interested in anti-social behaviour or knife crime or anything really that isn’t clean air or Ulez.

So who is in charge of it all? I’ve lived here for over 25 years and I honestly couldn’t tell you.

No one wants a London that’s completely sanitised, but there is an increasingly lawless feel on our streets and if it isn’t tackled we will see a hollowing out of the capital where families won’t bring up their children in the greatest city in the world. Someone needs to start paying attention.

Anna van Praagh is the Evening Standard’s chief content officer