Killing of a Constable: Local people numbed by culture of violence: Martin Whitfield finds shock, but not surprise, a neighbourhood's respectable streets

DRUGS and the inevitability of associated violence have a numbing effect on those they envelop.

Residents of the streets around Cato Road may be shocked by details of the murder of Constable Patrick Dunne but they are not surprised.

The area is typical of inner-city London, with its cheek-by-jowl mixture of public and private housing. The locals know where the trade in drugs takes place. They hear the police sirens, watch the stake-outs of drugs dens and see the gleaming new BMWs and Mercedes, their drug-rich occupants awash with street fashion and gold jewellery.

All this activity creates an atmosphere of daily menace that is routinely absorbed. Deep shock comes only when the violence knocks next door, not the next street.

'The detritus of the drug trade are all around,' says George Walker, 41. Eddison, his collie dog, sniffs out the small plastic bags used in a typical crack transaction on his regular walks of Clapham's streets.

Cato Road itself is a quiet residential street with its Victorian three-storey houses mainly converted into flats. Sewnarine Sadoo, 53, who runs Clapham Estates in Bedford Road, has owned 20 Cato Road for more than 10 years. As an estate agent, he knows the good from the bad and Cato Road's reputation is tatty, but respectable.

Two-bedroom flats fetch pounds 10,000 less than the pounds 70,000 units of Tremadoc Road, the next street. This is a measure of its higher proportion of public housing, rather than any connection to illegality. Houses are worth pounds 150,000 and attract white urban professionals. Mr Sadoo agrees with the street talk that drug dealing is largely done in Landor Road, three roads away but separated by railway lines and the main road to Brixton. 'Landor Road is well known, it's going towards Brixton. That's the nest of drug dealers and they are expanding in all directions.'

Police have set up at least two stake-outs in another local street and a resident taxi driver said he knew a house where drugs could be obtained.

'I've lived here five years and this is relatively recent,' he observed. Khai Hamid, 46, a domestic science lecturer and mother of two teenage children, lived in Cato Road until she was transferred following a burglary.

'I used to be there at number six. It used to be very quiet, I loved it,' she said. 'Drugs are all around and it's very worrying, especially if you have children. It's giving all black people a bad name.'

At Link Cars, opposite the Burger King Drive Thru, the receptionist is hardened to the area's excesses. 'This sort of thing does not surprise me. It doesn't around here, does it?'

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