Inner-city area struggles to lose violent image

St Paul's shooting: Police tackle drug and vice trade in district dogged by legacy of riots
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The Independent Online
DECCA AITKENHEAD

Like Brixton, Manchester's Moss Side or Liverpool's Toxteth, the district of St Paul's in Bristol, where Evon Berry was killed yesterday, became a byword for inner-city, inter-racial violence after the riots of the Eighties.

First in 1980, then in 1981, 1986, 1987 and 1992, the area witnessed ugly clashes between police and a disaffected community, and secured a reputation as one of Britain's growing no-go areas.

St Paul's sits near Bristol's city centre, a collection of run-down streets, decaying houses and scattered derelict land. Of the approximately 5,000 population, 35 per cent are from ethnic minorities. Unemployment is a defining feature of the area, running at an average of 30 per cent throughout the Eighties, but it was a series of high-profile anti-drug police operations which sparked most of the disturbances of the decade.

Operation Delivery, in 1986, involved 600 officers plus reinforcements; two nights of burnings, beatings, looting and vandalism ensued, scarring already dilapidated streets. Widespread arrests followed.

The police defended their action by claiming that blatant drug-trafficking, prostitution and street violence had reached unacceptable levels. Community leaders in turn accused them of heavy-handed tactics and persecution. But the outcome of the conflict for St Paul's was clear: national notoriety and wretched police and community relations.

Efforts have been made since 1992 to re-invest in St Paul's and repair those relations. Surveys in the year after the last unrest showed that the Trinity Road district, at the heart of which lies St Paul's, accounted for one in four of all crimes in Avon and Somerset; 90 per cent were drug related.

In an average month in 1993, Superintendent Anne Summers, responsible for the district, could expect to deal with 37 burglaries, 100 muggings and 11 serious assaults.

By 1994, however, the area was reporting a slight but significant drop in crime rates. A sustained initiative to get vice girls off the streets by turning a blind eye to massage parlours, while targeting kerb-crawlers and pimps, appears to have won cautious community support. Another police initiative, Impact, works with community leaders to target crack houses, illegal drinking dens and late-night gambling houses.

But violence and drugs remain a dominant feature of life in St Paul's. Early last year, crack dealers were found to be using nine-year-olds to sell the drug.

Property prices show little sign of rising. There were two shootings in the last month and both incidents are thought to be drug-related. Two years ago a man was shot at the Malcom X Centre, where yesterday's victim worked.

Community leaders complain that St Paul's has a reputation for drugs and violence which eclipses the area's other qualities. It is unquestionably a colourful and close-knit community, though whether locals' reluctance to talk about the latest shooting indicated loyalty or fear is questionable.

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