Scourge of crack cocaine sending estate into despair

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The Independent Online

Police in the notorious Stapleton Road area of Bristol admitted that the neighbourhood's crime problem had been entrenched for more than 25 years but was being driven to new levels by the crack cocaine market.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, toured the area, which is stricken by robbery, burglary and prostitution. Fears over crime reached a new level in June last year when a 12-year-old girl was marched by a man along the platform at Stapleton Road station and raped in undergrowth.

All agree that crack cocaine is driving the crime problem in and around this dreary mile-and-a-half-long highway, close to the city centre.

More than a decade has passed since the highly addictive crystals of "washed" cocaine powder began to appear in central Bristol, one of the first British cities to report a crack problem. The scourge has remained despite police initiatives to catch the dealers.

Nine months ago, Avon and Somerset Police set up Operation Atrium, which has led to 150 operations and 350 arrests. Eight firearms have been recovered, as well as crack and heroin to the value of £750,000.

But crime levels in the area remain alarmingly high. In the last nine months of last year, Stapleton Road was the scene of 298 violent crimes, 138 robberies and 131 burglaries.

Sector Inspector Jeanette Harris said she was more optimistic at the end of the meeting with Mr Blunkett, but called for more resources.

She said: "The crime problem here is 25 to 30 years old, but it has certainly increased in the past 18 months. What I am looking for is more resources – not just for the police, but more to help the community partnerships."