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Camden News - by PAUL KEILTHY
Published: 31 July 2008
Torriano: from police raids to ‘zero crime’ in one year

Residents on troubled estate cautiously optimistic about crime turnaround

TO a newcomer arriving at Kentish Town’s Torriano estate the hopscotch grid painted on spotless tarmac – like the flower-filled communal garden a few yards away – adds a sleepy summer charm to the attractive curve of the four-storey, 1930s blocks.
But to residents it is a measure of how far they have come, and how fast.
The hopscotch area was once a blackened moped crematorium, where teenage gangs torched the remnants of bikes they had stolen and cannibalised for parts for the scooters on which they kept residents awake with their nightly off-street rides.
Two years ago, the Torriano, near Brecknock Road, was the most crime-ridden estate in Kentish Town.
For the past month there have been no crimes reported at the estate at all – and only one since May.
Cautiously, residents are starting to celebrate – and come to terms with the fact that the relentless focus of the authorities is about to move on.
Torriano Estate Tenants and Residents Association (TRA) activist Carol Delaney said: “If you look back two years ago, when the kids were setting fire to mopeds, there was all sorts going on the estate.
“The TRA room was broken into at one point. There were fires out the back, there was a lot of nicking mopeds. There was a stage when people were afraid to walk through the courtyard. The estate has calmed down a lot since then.”
Residents of the estate have been the beneficiaries of a combined effort by the council and the Met’s Safer Neighbourhoods project, which devotes a team of officers to every ward and allows a citizen’s panel to set them three priorities.
Cleaning up Torriano became the priority for Kentish Town’s team, whose leader, Sergeant Peter Ryan, set about ensuring that his officers patrolled the estate every day.
Last July, the New Journal witnessed one of a string of raids on the estate’s Longmeadow block, considered the centre of the problems.
It followed a three-month surveillance operation in which Sgt Ryan persuaded the council to use covert cameras in the estate to catch serial vandals and burglars. Many of them did not live at Torriano – but their visits to the estate coincided with a string of burglaries on neighbouring Brecknock Road and Torriano Cottages.
Six families on the estate were warned by the council that their tenancies could be revoked.
Sgt Ryan recalled: “The biggest problem was one you get all over London – residents are scared to give evidence against their neighbours.
“For a long time the police have let people like that down. But when there is overwhelming evidence against a few offenders – and it takes a long time to get it and to reassure residents as well – the families of those people take action themselves.”
It was not an easy transition, and at times the tension between the authorities and a small number of well-known families became dangerously personal.
Police cars parked on the estate had their tyres slashed and their paintwork scored, while the name of one Kentish Town constable was daubed in racist messages on the estate’s walls.
During a raid last year, one resident told the New Journal he was the victim of police harassment based on false information from “grasses”.
He said: “They keep coming and they keep finding nothing but they don’t stop, just because one or two people on this estate don’t like us but won’t say so to our faces.”
The test of whether the initiatives have made a permanent difference will come soon. The Kentish Town police team only has a sergeant and two constables as well as three PCSOs, and their continued focus on Torriano cannot be justified when the estate is suffering zero crime.
Last week, the citizens on the Kentish Town Safer Neighbourhood panel removed Torriano from the team’s list of three priorities.
Now they will be focused on low-level crime in all of the ward’s housing estates – a far thinner spread of resources.
Ward councillor Ralph Scott said improvements to the estate were still needed but that Torriano was “a lot, lot better than it was”, and pledged that the attention of the district housing office would not move on with the police.
He said: “It is a success, but there’s still more work to be done.
“It’s right that the police should move on to where there are other problems, but residents should keep fighting for improvements.”Torriano estate; below: the New Journal’s coverage of police raids last July

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