Drugs and crime mean Del Boy's manor should be reduced to dust, says police chief

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They used to call it the Golden Mile, but yesterday the hairdressers, off-licences and boarded-up properties that remain on Peckham High Street went by a different name - the front line.

They used to call it the Golden Mile, but yesterday the hairdressers, off-licences and boarded-up properties that remain on Peckham High Street went by a different name - the front line.

The area made famous by the BBC comedy Only Fools and Horses and its wide-boy Del-Boy Trotter features a 400-yard stretch of dilapidated Victorian shopfronts and flats. The row at the eastern end of the south London street has gained a reputation as one of the capital's worst drug spots.

In July, no fewer than 16 crack-cocaine dealers were arrested in the rubbish-strewn doorways and on the street corners in a single sweep by police. The arrests were part of a crackdown by the Metropolitan Police to eradicate the pushers. But the problem remains. Such is its scale that this week the man in charge of day-to-day policing in Peckham felt compelled to put forward a more radical solution - demolition.

Superintendent Charles Griggs, head of operations for Peckham, believes the problem has become part of the High Street's brickwork and can only be eradicated by reducing it to dust and pouring in funds for regeneration.

He said: "We have made a number of attempts to get rid of the drug dealers but they just come back. The only solution is to knock down the High Street and start again.

"This is an area that has been plagued by drug dealers for many, many years. The networks are well-established and they are almost part of the infrastructure of this section of the High Street. Peckham is an up and coming place but it is dragged down by the appalling High Street. I am not alone in wanting to see it demolished."

The reputation of the lower end of Peckham High Street took a further dive in August when a queue of revellers outside the Chicago's nightclub was sprayed with bullets from a passing car carrying agunman armed with an Uzi sub-machine gun. Eight people were left injured on the pavement. The shooting was blamed on so-called Jamaican Yardies who dominate the drugs trade in the area.

The presence of at least two "home-grown" crime gangs - the Peckham Boys and the Younger Peckham Boys - trying to muscle in on the lucrative market has also added to tension in the area. Peckham has seen 190 arrests for drugs offences over the past four months, including 38 for possession with intent to supply. In the first 18 days of October, 46 people had been arrested for possession compared with 28 for the whole of July.

But the suggestion that part of Peckham is a hell-hole fit only for the bulldozers was met with anger yesterday. Nigel Tumcer, a mechanic aged 30, opened his garage on the High Street two months ago. Business has not been helped by the reputation of the road, but for Mr Tumcer razing it to the ground is not an option. "How is knocking down people's livelihoods going to solve the drugs problem?" he asked. "It will simply push it around the corner to the next available area. We need to see police around here, not the demolition men."

Clara Daniel, 26, who runs a women's clothing shop on the High Street, added: "I have had the shop broken into. People feel they can walk in and grab what they want. It's barefaced crime which you feel powerless to stop. But if you get rid of an area then it disperses the problem rather than gets rid of it."

The irony of a remark by Del-Boy in one Only Fools and Horses episode, that the only people to miss Peckham were the bomber pilots of Hitler's Luftwaffe, was not lost on 75-year-old Desmond Adams. He said: "It's like Only Fools and Horses - the police want to finish off what the bombs couldn't. It seems to me that they are ducking the issue - surely it is their job to catch the dealers rather than talk about knocking down bits of London."

The storm has blown up only a week after Peckham was hailed as a beacon for urban regeneration during a visit by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to the award-winning Peckham Square development. Through the empty windows of one of the High Street's ruined buildings, passers-by can see the futuristic outline of Peckham Library, funded from £260m spent on the area since 1995.

Little surprise, then, that the local authority was yesterday at pains to underline the up-and-coming nature of Peckham. Stephanie Elsy, the leader of Southwark Borough Council, said: "Superintendent Griggs is perhaps frustrated that the drug issue still continues, and his remarks reflect that frustration.

"In the meantime, we are pushing on with the regeneration, and the High Street is part of that."