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Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 08:27 GMT
Time to take guns out of community
Harlesden High Street
Harlesden has been plagued by gang-related shootings
Harlesden in north west London recently topped the league for the highest murder rate in Britain. BBC News Online's Community Affairs reporter, Cindi John, visited the area to speak with police and public.

Stand on the corner of Harlesden High Street and you will see the whole spectrum of British society walk by.

Click here to view map of Harlesden area.

Harlesden, in north west London, is in the borough of Brent where, according to the 1991 census, nearly half of all residents were from minority ethnic groups.

Harlesden borders a more affluent and famous neighbourhood, Willesden, whose multi-cultural society was immortalised in the novel White Teeth by Zadie Smith.


I think the best thing to do is to give the police a free hand and send these so-called Yardies abroad where they come from, Jamaica.

James Ryan
Harlesden resident
It seems tame enough as shoppers go about their business on a bright weekday afternoon, but a recent spate of gun crimes in Harlesden put the area at the top of police league tables for the highest murder rate in the UK.

Shootings have occured in busy streets at peak shopping times.

One recent confrontation involved bullets being fired into a school playground after rival gang members clashed in an adjoining street.

Revenge attacks

Bridge Park leisure centre on the outskirts of Harlesden is one project the council hoped would help change the fortunes of the area which is home to a large African Caribbean population, dogged by high unemployment and poor economic circumstances.

Jim Farrell
Jim Farrell: "Police alone cannot end violence alone"
But Chief Inspector Jim Farrell, of Brent police told BBC News Online it was here the murderous spree began just under two years ago.

"We have a problem currently that began in May 1999 when we had someone shot here at Bridge Park and within six months seven people had been killed in the area.

"Since that time we've had fewer deaths although they have continued but a similar number of shootings," he said.

Young, Gifted & Dead poster
These shocking posters went up as part of the campaign

Chief Inspector Farrell was at Bridge Park to help organise the public unveiling of a community-based campaign aimed at driving violent elements out of Harlesden.

He said the reasons for the shootings were complex but many were linked to two groups within the area, one comprised of black British young men and the other predominantly men from Jamaica.

"Some of the attacks have been revenge attacks, some have been related to what would be considered by most people to be very trivial incidents, a lack of respect shown to someone for example.

"I wouldn't say it all boils down to drugs but there is often a link with drugs in that the economic base of many of the people involved in these attacks is the illegal supply of drugs," said Mr Farrell.

Unsafe

The local MP, Paul Boateng, has backed the new anti-gun crime initiative but that did not stop some shoppers in Harlesden regarding it with cynicism.

Angela Pitt, who has lived in Harlesden for 10 years, said: "I'm not sure whether it will really make a difference.

"They've tried things like this before, we'll just have to wait and see."

Ann Huggett
Ann Huggett feels unsafe in Harlesden

Ann Huggett, who moved to Harlesden five years ago, felt those who needed to take heed were likely to ignore the campaign.

"They're putting a lot of money in to try and raise people's awareness of what's happening and why but it's only going to affect the people who are involved and whether they're going to listen or not I don't know," she said.

Brent council has struggled hard to regenerate Harlesden after major stores like Marks & Spencer left several years ago.

Rita Costa
Rita Costa: "It's too dangerous to go out"

A new shopping arcade is a sign of the growing confidence in the previously depressed commercial area.

But locals fear businesses and shoppers could be scared away if the violence is not stamped out soon.

"It's getting to the stage where we feel unsafe to walk around because these things are happening, 3 or 4 o' clock in the afternoon, not at night time," said Mrs Huggett.

Rita Costa, who has lived in Harlesden since 1999, said: "The police should be a little more active, normally I don't go out because I feel afraid.

"I have children and I always have problems even sending them to the shops because of this."

Bhavin Mehta
Bhavin Mehta: "Violence is unnerving"
A-level student Bhavin Mehta seems resigned to continuing gun violence.

"It's unnerving at times and it does make you wary of your surroundings and everything but I suppose you have to live with it really, " he said.

Pensioner James Ryan had his own solution to ending the problems with gun crime.

"The best thing to do is to give the police a free hand and send these so-called Yardies abroad where they come from, Jamaica. I know the innocent may be swept up with the guilty but that's the price you pay," he said.

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