Revealed: How new digital phone boxes are helping to drive Camden’s drug trade
- Credit: Siorna Ashby
Drug dealers may be using new high-tech BT systems that are replacing phone boxes across Camden to summon dealers and get their fix , the Ham&High can reveal.
The council has confirmed it is now investigating the allegations and will be speaking to cops and BT.
The InLink points have been installed across Camden since they were piloted in the borough in March 2017, and are now being rolled out across London.
They supply advertising space on the front and back, and also give users the ability to charge their phones, look at maps, and make free phone calls.
But first-hand evidence obtained by this newspaper suggests the free phone calls they offer may also have a more sinister use.
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The Ham&High has witnessed apparently vulnerable people queuing up at the InLink point outside Camden Town Tube to seemingly dial dealers and buy drugs.
Each time, someone calls a number and waits yards away for a few minutes, before being met by what appears to be a dealer on foot at the same spot a few minutes later. The two parties then make an exchange, and walk away. Sometimes, the suspected dealer – who has been hanging around the area prior to the call – will continue to loiter.
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BT has said there is “no active surveillance of calls” but that, on request, it will give retrospective data about calls to help with police investigations.
It also confirmed there is no active tracking of individual users.
Video footage obtained by the Ham&High also shows drug deals taking place a short distance up the road as oblivious tourists and commuters hurry down Camden High Street.
The Ham&High has visited the site a number of times over the past few weeks and seen the same few people involved each time.
The revelations will make awkward reading for BT, which featured the Camden Town InLink point in a national promo video showcasing the roll-out of the service in March.
When the panels were installed, they didn’t require planning permission because they comply with national policy and they supply free wi-fi and calls.
BT is planning to roll out 750 of them across the country over the next few years.
In January, a Camden Safer Neighbourhood Board meeting was told the recent rise in gang violence in the area was because of a collapse in the drug market in Camden Town and Camden Lock, the area around the InLink service.
Det Insp William Lexton-Jones, head of Central North Police’s gangs team, told the meeting: “The disruption of a drugs market is the reason why serious violence will increase.”
Neighbourhood police have said they do not believe there is criminal activity linked to the points, although they concede Camden Town has been a historic hub for drugs.
The Metropolitan Police have also said there have been no crimes linked to the panels reported to them since the start of January 2018.
Roy Walker, chairman of the Camden Safer Neighbourhood Board, said he wasn’t aware of the problem, but saw how it could be used.
“It’s a variation on the pay-as-you-go mobiles being used,” he said. “Then there’s no record of the ownership.
“How it can be stopped I don’t know, unless BT stop the phones.
“It means that people who want to order drugs don’t have to go and use a mobile phone. Whether it exacerbates the issues in Camden Town, I don’t know.”
A Camden Council spokesman said: “The council’s community safety team has been made aware of the allegations and will be liaising with police colleagues and InLink UK.
“In Link agreed to monitor the use of the panels, and will investigate any complaints made.”
BT says it consults with the Met about site locations for the new panels.
It has no plans to introduce CCTV for the InLink systems.
A BT spokesman said: “It’s disappointing to hear about this apparent criminal activity in Camden. In the first instance we advise anyone who believe they have witnessed a crime to report it to police.
“We work closely with the police in the areas where InLinks have been installed. In Camden we supported the Safer Neighbourhoods Team to help reduce crime, by using InLinks to promote the Met Police’s moped mobile snatch campaign.
“We’re also in regular contact with teams in the community to see what else we can do to help make communities safer.”