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Wish you weren't here

Eastbourne's image of a genteel, classy, tourist resort is rapidly being eroded by spiralling drug-related crime.
WHEN Heather Sievewright told the drug dealers they were not welcome at her pub their response was to pour paint stripper on her car, smash the windows and then threaten to burn her out.

It made Ms Sievewright determined to clean up the Bourne Inn, which had built up an unsavoury reputation, particularly after a notorious killing had taken place outside the premises. The dealings in crack cocaine and heroin and stolen property moved on to another pub in the neighbourhood, the Rose and Crown. That was raided a few months later as part of a wide- ranging operation involving 300 officers.

This would be an everyday story of life and crime in London, Manchester or Liverpool. But this took place in eminently respectable Eastbourne, voted not so long ago by the English Tourist Board as the country's top resort. Yet there is a serious crime problem in Sussex , mainly drugs related. Every month there are regular police raids, and internecine violence involving gangs at nightclubs and pubs. It is not so much about the supply of the narcotics which is easy enough, with Kent and Essex the entry ports from the Continent. Instead the disputes tend to be about the rights to distribution.

To get the problem in perspective: retired colonels and their partners are not set upon by doped-up thugs as they walk the promenade. But their children, part of a large student population in the area, are often targets of the dealers.

What brought this violent underside of seaside Sussex to light recently was when armed police officers smashed into the home of 39-year-old Jimmy Ashley at Hastings and shot him dead in front of his teenage lover Caroline Courtland-Smith. He was a working -class cocaine supplier, she was a student from a middle- class family, who had been educated at the pounds 1,800-a-term Buchan school in the Isle of Man. Ashley was convicted of manslaughter following the killing of 41-year-old David Hitchmough outside the Bourne Inn.

Ashley, a career criminal and convicted killer, was born and brought up at the Liverpool dockside area of Dingle before moving south to work as a bouncer in Eastbourne. His history reflects one of the main complaints of the locals in this part of Sussex. Their area has not yet become Moss Side, Toxteth, or Brixton, but the worst elements from those areas are coming to Eastbourne and Hastings.

The problem is due to market forces. During the recession many of the genteel Edwardian and Victorian boarding houses and hotels were bought up by entrepreneurs with an eye for the main chance. They turned them into lucrative DSS "dole" hostels and attracted clients on benefits from London, the midlands and the north . It was these young single newcomers who are blamed for introducing a culture of criminality.

Brian Higgins, the Conservative leader of the opposition on Eastbourne Council, said: "There is no doubt that a lot of people in the bigger cities in the north saw the opportunity for a better quality of life down here. Some of the owners who converted these places into hostels then advertised for lodgers in cities in the north. What we had to do was to bring these places under some form of control, because in certain areas we had certainly got ourselves a drug problem."

The area around Pevensey Road in Eastbourne does not correspond to the conventional image of a ghetto. The look is more one of tiredness and decay. But according to local people it is a centre of drug dealing, prostitution and trading in stolen properties, although police and community workers stress there have been been attempts recently to clean it up.

Local shopkeepers paint a more alarming picture. One woman said: " We get our windows smashed and we get burgled. They do it to get money for drugs. Some of them are quite young. And most of them are outsiders, they live in the dole hostels. They are driving trade out. The police carry out searches, and the dealers then just go back to business. I am going to shut up my shop next year and retire, but not in Eastbourne".

At the Bourne Inn, Ms Sievewright is helping to organise a seminar of the town's publicans to discuss the drug and crime problem. She said of her dealings with the dealers: "I was told by many people to be careful, but I was not having it and we have seen them off. But the fact is there is a major drug problem around here, and I hate to say it, but most of the people involved are Scousers".

Two hundred yards away,sipping a can of Carlsberg is Michael Kelly, originally from north Liverpool. He takes perhaps understandable umbrage at this. "I am sick of this crap, we Scousers get the blame for everything. It's typical stereotyping. Sure there are a few Scouse villains around here, but there are a lot of others from Scotland, London, all sorts... See that guy over there, that's Lenny who knows all about E, and he is not from Liverpool, he is from Leeds." (Lenny refuses to discuss Ecstasy or anything else).

"But it's silly to say there aren't drugs around. It's not as bad as Hastings or Brighton, but there are plenty of heavies living in Eastbourne. In fact they prefer living here, I mean it's nicer here, you get a better class of people."