Police forge ties with left to fight the crack trade: Clampdown puts squeeze on drug dealing and prostitution at King's Cross. Ian MacKinnon reports

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A GROUND-BREAKING alliance between the police and local authorities appears to be winning the war against the drug dealers in one of Europe's most notorious areas.

Officers combating drug crime in King's Cross, central London, say the number of dealers, mainly trading in crack cocaine, has been cut from 150 to just 48 over the past year.

Prostitution, often linked with drugs, has also declined, though police admit that the hard-core figure of around 40 male and female prostitutes has remained stable.

Police forces from all over the country and as far afield as Germany, as well as several universities, have come to London to study the project, codenamed Operation Welwyn, to examine the lessons that can be learnt from its success. Yesterday, exactly a year after it began, Commander John Townsend of the Metropolitan Police, said: 'This is a superb example of what can be achieved when police, local authorities and other agencies work together to tackle crime. If it can be done here it can be done almost anywhere.'

Residents in the area, straddling two London boroughs, Camden and Islington, had become increasingly concerned about its seedy reputation - particularly around British Rail's main- line station.

Police realised that conventional policing was not enough to turn the tide completely against the dealers, who traded relatively openly, often with buyers from other parts of Europe who saw King's Cross as a good source with few risks.

Discussions between police and the left-wing authorities developed a strategy which attacked the problem from various directions.

Camden and Islington, in an effort to improve the look of the area, adjusted street- cleaning rosters, introduced a programme to ensure that hypodermic syringes were collected, and sought to upgrade streets and lighting in conjunction with the police to 'design out' the problem.

A further development is being contemplated which would see the arrested prostitutes and drug users referred to Camden and Islington health authority, which would then pass the cases on to the individual's own authority, as most live outside the area.

Police resources in the area were also used in a more focused way, with sophisticated video surveillance and undercover officers acting as buyers in order to gather evidence and ensure conviction on arrest.

In 1993 police made about 2,000 arrests, a third for prostitution, a third for crimes such as burglary and assault, and the rest for drugs, including 100 suppliers, 96 of whom were convicted. Suppliers - trading mainly in crack priced at around pounds 20 a rock, and a little heroin at pounds 10 a fold - were jailed for between three and seven years by the courts.

Undercover officers monitoring prices - indicating availability - and levels of activity made 86 separate purchases of crack at between pounds 25 and pounds 50 a rock in a 13-day period over Christmas. This led to 38 arrests, with 34 charged, in the first six weeks of this year.

Commander Townsend acknowledged that a danger of a crackdown in the King's Cross area was that the problems would be displaced to elsewhere in the capital, but said there was little evidence to suggest that had happened.

He added: 'The main thing is that the area feels safer and less threatening, the streets are cleaner, and there is far less drug dealing and prostitution.

'It still exists, but it's much less visible.'

(Photograph omitted)