With its pound shops and kebab houses, its estate agents and pubs, Upper and Lower Clapton Road in east London could be any other busy street in any other city in the UK. Except that in the past two years, eight men have been reported shot dead either in the street or in the leafy avenues running off it. The sound of gunfire and the accompanying whine of an ambulance or police car is never far away.
Welcome to the Murder Mile – a stretch of tarmac that lays claim to the unwanted, unlovely title of Britain's deadliest road. Nerves are beginning to fray, even among aspiring locals living in well-secured £350,000 houses close by.
Their fears are shared to some degree in towns and cities around the UK. This has been a terrible week for violent crime in Britain, ushering in a grim new year and a growing feeling that crime is spiralling out of control.
As the year drew to a close last Sunday, Kevin Jackson, a father of two, was stabbed in the head and killed in Halifax, West Yorkshire. On Tuesday, a teenaged girl was shot in the head by a mugger who stole her mobile phone; that followed the armed hold-up of a 10-year-old boy in south London for his mobile phone and £25 spending money.
Those headlines have helped to crank up the dread of becoming an innocent victim of crime. In Hackney, however, that fear has become a sad reality. Take the past week.
On Tuesday, a DJ was shot in the head after a row broke out at a New Year's Eve party. The bullet passed through his neck and through a partition wall, killing a second man. The same evening, a 32-year-old was rushed to hospital with blood gushing from his foot where he had shot himself in excitement at another Hackney nightclub 10 minutes from the Lower and Upper Clapton Road.
Earlier in the week, Hackney police found a man bludgeoned to death in his flat a few hundred yards from the Lower Clapton Road.
"Hackney is hot right now," said the cab driver as we passed the scene of the latest violence. At 2am yesterday all was peaceful. "We've had, what, seven shootings in seven days. It's crazy. All the kids are staying away – that's why it's so quiet.
"There are guns all over Hackney. Even in the cab they have ways of letting you know they are carrying something. One guy told me he was carrying a 'small weapon'. He opened his briefcase and at the bottom was a machine gun."
At a restaurant on the Lower Clapton Road on Friday night, the owner, not wishing to be named for fear of reprisals, is plainly alarmed.
"You should live here. Then you would see what it is like. A couple of days ago we were closed but three men were banging on the door trying to get in. There was a car parked outside and the driver showed his gun before driving off. The three men were running from him.
"Things have got to change. If they don't, then in two generations' time no one will be able to stop them. Even now 14-year-old kids come in at 4am. When I say, you should be in bed, they say it's none of your business."
While Hackney enjoys middle-class enclaves where houses can fetch £500,000, the nature of the violence – revolving as it does around internecine gang wars – means it receives little national media coverage. Nor is it at the centre of political debate.
"If black people shoot black people then no one cares about it," says the restaurateur. "If it was white people who were getting shot they would do something."
According to figures from Operation Trident, set up by the Metropolitan police to tackle black-on-black shootings, 16 people were shot in Hackney in the 18 months to last June.
Jules Pipe, leader of Labour-run Hackney Council, accepts that while crime in the borough is falling – by 2 per cent last year – fear of crime is rising. "We know fear of crime has gone up," says Mr Pipe. "Partly because of the highly visible shootings and other crimes related to crack-cocaine dealing, which the police reckon is committed largely by gangs from outside the borough fighting turf wars here."
Not everyone is terrified, and despite the local reports, house prices have been spiralling. Jez, who is white and has lived in Hackney for 10 years – just around the corner from Murder Mile – says he wouldn't live anywhere else. He loves the area's multiculturalism. He is not scared to go out, although he has arrived home a few times to find his street sealed off by the police.
"I came home once and there had been a shooting at the corner. We later learned it had been over a debt of £160. It's not about the money, but proving you can protect your status.
"Another man was shot outside a nightclub. He was in his car but drove 200 yards before he died and ploughed into a bus stop. And this Saturday I came home and the police had blocked off the road. A guy across the road had been battered to death. Already the police are saying it is drug-related."
Not far from this area is London Fields, where houses can fetch £500,000. Jean Taylor, 30, was mugged as she walked there with her three-month-old son in his pushchair just before Christmas.
The robber threw what he claimed was acid in Samuel's face before grabbing Mrs Taylor's mobile phone and running off. The "acid" turned out to be nail varnish remover. "He was practically in the pram saying he was going to burn the baby," recalls Mrs Taylor. "He was shouting for the mobile phone. But I did not even realise I was being mugged. Then he threw the liquid and I thought it was acid. Now I am a nervous wreck. I feel so vulnerable with the baby now."Reuse content