'You go out thieving to get enough cash to buy your drugs. There's nothing else to do'

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Naz aims to steal two mobile phones or car radios - preferably both - every 24 hours to feed his £60-a-day crack and heroin habit.

Naz aims to steal two mobile phones or car radios - preferably both - every 24 hours to feed his £60-a-day crack and heroin habit.

The baseball-capped 17-year-old is one of the disenfranchised youngsters at the heart of the drugs and crime problem that has made the Bury Park area of Luton in Bedfordshire one of 50 areas to be targeted by the Youth Justice Board.

High unemployment and years of miss-targeted social funding have left Bury Park's vibrant and predominantly Asian community facing the task of reclaiming their streets from drugs, theft and prostitution.

Luton, a post-war sprawl once famed for making hats and now the home of Vauxhall Cars, has seen its crime rate increase by 9.2 per cent in the past 12 months with its Pakistani, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi neighbourhood bearing a large part of the burden.

Naz, a second-generation Pakistani found sitting on a bench yesterday waiting for his lunchtime fix, said: "Mobiles are the best thing - people leave them in their cars or you just grab bags. I know someone who gives me £30 a go. He sells them on for £100 I think.

"Drugs is the best thing around here, there is nothing else for us to look forward to. You go out thieving in the shops or the streets and get enough to buy your bags [of drugs]. Everything is all right after that."

Community workers in Bury Park - a bustling mile-long strip of Asian food and clothing stores, wholesalers and importers surrounded by rows of terraced housing - admit drugs is their major problem, with the attendant difficulties of youth crime and unemployment.

The jobless rate of 8.9 per cent in two council wards of Biscot and Dallow is double that of Luton as a whole and more than triple that for all Bedfordshire. The two wards were recently ranked among the 100 most deprived in the country.

House burglaries and shoplifting are among the favourite methods for addicts to get the money to feed their habit, according to Luton's Drugline help centre. Jackie, a 67-year-old Irishwoman who has lived in Bury Park for 22 years, said: "I've been burgled twice in the last six months. They come through the back window looking for my pension money or whatever they can get their hands on."

Those at the front line of Bury Park's problems put them down to a general social malaise and history of urban deprivation combined with a failure by the authority to recognise the specific needs of its immigrant inhabitants.

Sultan Mahmood, development officer for the Bury Park Community Resource Centre set up with a government grant two years ago, said: "We have a situation where the basic facilities and amenities don't exist to help us take youngsters off the streets and away from things like drugs... In effect, there is an element of institutional racism because there has not been enough recognition of the ethnic background of the people in need of help."

Luton's red light district at the heart of Bury Park is another problem, with prostitutes trading on two residential streets at night and leaving a detritus of used condoms for schoolchildren to pass in the morning.

There is a temptation to dismiss Bury Park as an ghetto - a diverse and friendly community, yet one beset by problems of its own creation. But those who work there say the truth lies elsewhere. Shakeel Ahmed, an outreach worker at the Bangladeshi Youth League, said: "These are problems communities face across the country. The support structure of the close-knit family has been eroded and young people around here are looking for something to replace it. We have to persuade them that that something is not drugs or crime."