by GEORGE ODLING CRIME REPORTER FOR THE DAILY MAIL, posted 01 03 2021
Damning probe reveals HALF of British police stations have closed in just ten years... with some being turned into cannabis farms or overrun with anarchist squatters
More than half of Britain's police stations have closed in the past ten years, a shocking Mail investigation reveals today.
At least 667 stations with front counters allowing the public to talk to officers have been shut down since 2010 in drastic cost-cutting measures.
Many more have closed temporarily during the Covid pandemic, prompting fears they will never reopen. Critics say the closures show that 'justice is in retreat' and selling police stations is 'an invitation for criminals to move in'.
In a terrifying recent incident in London, a homeless mother-of-three was beaten to death opposite a police station that is closed to the public. In Birmingham in December, a cyclist was knifed to death on a common overlooked by a former station.
And on Friday, 19-year-old Ahmed Beker was stabbed to death near west London's Paddington Green police station, which closed in 2018.
Jay Singh-Sohal, the Conservative candidate to be West Midlands police and crime commissioner, said: 'You could argue that if these police stations had been open and fully operating then attacks like these might not have taken place.'
As senior officers warn of a summer crime wave once lockdown restrictions are eased, Freedom of Information responses from 39 police forces reveal:
Tragic victims killed yards from former stations
Teen knifed to death
Ahmed Beker, 19, was stabbed to death on Friday night near the former site of Paddington Green police station in west London. The station closed in 2018 – and has since been 'occupied' by anarchists.
Ahmed died at the scene, less than 100 yards away from where his cousin Josiph, 17, was fatally stabbed two years ago.
Josiph's father James said Ahmed's was 'unbelievable', adding: 'It's the same thing again. My brother is devastated.' Police have launched a murder inquiry.
Murdered on church steps
Kelly Stewart, 41, was bludgeoned and stamped to death opposite a police station which has been turned into offices. The homeless mother of three, right, was sleeping on church steps near Plaistow station in east London, which closed to the public in 2017. It is now used by police as a back office.
Miss Stewart's killer, Kieran Rifat, 22, dumped her body in an alley after the attack on March 26 last year. He was jailed for life with a minimum of 17 years after pleading guilty to murder.
Dad out with his daughter
Mohamed Al-Zufairi, 34, was stabbed near a former station that has been converted into flats.
Despite local outcry, Wealdstone station in north-west London closed its public counter in 2010. The site was sold for £950,000 four years later.
Mr Al-Zufairi had taken his daughter to buy some sweets when he was attacked by Abraham Omotoso, 30, in 2017. The knifeman bought a one-way flight to Nigeria the next day, but was arrested after Gatwick staff grew suspicious. He was jailed for 18 years for manslaughter.
Cannabis factories have been found in two abandoned police stations, while anarchists occupied a former London station last year, and it took 60 officers to evict them.
In many areas, such as Ely in Cambridgeshire, there is no face-to-face contact and victims must rely on a large yellow telephone on an outside wall to report crimes.
Nottinghamshire Police swapped its old station in Eastwood, which closed in 2014, for a webcam, which locals can use to speak with an officer eight miles away.
And Hertfordshire, home to 1.2 million people, has only three fully operational police stations, down from ten in 2010.
Critics have derided schemes such as 'virtual police officers' as ineffective for people who seek the reassurance of face-to-face contact and the privacy of a police station.
Law professor Paul Kohler began campaigning for local police stations to remain open after his life was saved by officers who raced to his house from Wimbledon police station in south London to confront a gang of robbers.
He said: 'These figures are absolutely shocking. If we want community policing, then we absolutely need police stations in the community, somewhere safe victims of crime can go.
'We can't reclaim these stations once they're sold – once they are gone, that's it.'
Former Cabinet minister David Mellor said the decreasing rate of reported crime could be partly because some victims don't feel confident enough to contact the police via telephone.
'In the old days you could walk into a police station and see a Dixon of Dock Green figure who would take your details and you could at least feel that the police cared about you and the community,' he said.
'There is now a widening gap between the public and the police that is very disconcerting.'
Retired officer Norman Brennan, who is standing as an independent police and crime commissioner candidate for Dorset, said: 'The public used to be able to go into a police station, meet with a real police officer, have a cup of tea and feel like they were being protected and were being listened to.
'But this is no longer the case, and it is very worrying.' Mr Singh-Sohal added: 'What sort of message does this send to criminals? It sends the message that justice is in retreat.
'Closing down an area's police station is an invitation for criminals to move in. I don't think it's possible to argue the case that an area remains just as safe after it has lost its police station.'
Labour policing spokesman Sarah Jones said the closures were 'a direct result of the crippling cuts the Tories have made to policing'.
Violent crime has dropped in the last 12 months largely due to lockdown measures but senior officers have warned of a surge in crime once restrictions are eased.
Metropolitan Police Federation chairman Ken Marsh, who represents rank-and-file officers in London, said: 'I have real concerns about a spike in crime once restrictions are lifted. We have already seen gang activity start to bubble up.'
A Home Office spokesman said: 'The Government is giving the police the resources they need to cut crime and keep communities safe.
'This year, police funding will total up to £15.8 billion – £636 million more than last year – and we are recruiting an extra 20,000 officers, 6,620 of whom are already in place.
'Police stations close for a range of reasons, including increases in online crime reporting and investment in new digital technologies such as tools to enable officers to work flexibly and perform services they would have previously had to return to a police station for.'
Dixon of Dock Green replaced by cannabis farms and anarchists
Drug dealers reaped rewards
Astonishing pictures revealed how one former station was turned into a massive cannabis factory.
The first floor and loft space at Failsworth station in Oldham had been used to grow more than 1,000 plants worth an estimated £1.5million. Police said the 'gardeners' appeared to have been living on the site.
The station opened in 1892 but was shut in 2013 and sold for £190,000 three years later. The cannabis factory – complete with hydroponic lighting equipment – was discovered in 2019.
The first floor and loft space at Failsworth station in Oldham had been used to grow more than 1,000 plants worth an estimated £1.5million
... And it wasn't a one-off either
A Grade II-listed former station is feared to have faced the same fate after it closed in 2013.
The site in Winchmore Hill, north-east London, was sold in 2015 for £950,000 and is being converted into six flats.
However, developers faced a setback last year when police arrested two men on suspicion of growing cannabis on the premises.
Grade II-listed former station Winchmore Hill was sold in 2015 for £950,000 and is being converted into six flats
Stronghold that fell to squatters
It was built to provide a stronghold for interrogating IRA terrorists – but years later Paddington Green police station was overrun by anarchists.
The west London site was occupied for three weeks last February by 11 members of the so-called Green Anti-Capitalist Front, who smeared 'all cops are bastards' on the walls. It took more than 60 officers, bailiffs and security guards to evict them.
Paddington Green police station was occupied for three weeks last February by 11 members of the so-called Green Anti-Capitalist Front
The once ultra-secure station was closed in 2018, and an application has been filed to convert it into 600 homes.
Built at the height of the Troubles, it was described by one former detainee as having 'an atmosphere of total lockdown'. Writer Ronan Bennett said: 'The place had a bleak finality about it which prompted the feeling that you were never going to get out.'
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