TALE OF TWO CITIES; If New York Can Sweep Its Streets Clean of Beggars and Crime, Why on Earth Can't London Do the Same?

Daily Mail (London), March 6, 2000 | Go to article overview

TALE OF TWO CITIES; If New York Can Sweep Its Streets Clean of Beggars and Crime, Why on Earth Can't London Do the Same?


Byline: SIMON HEFFER

AS ANYONE who visited New York in the Seventies or Eighties will remember, it was a good time to be somewhere else. The city was infested with drug-crazed beggars and muggers and large parts of it appeared completely unpoliced.

Violence was often random and extremely brutal. At its nadir, the city gave birth to the terrible craze of 'wilding', in which gangs of youths would descend on innocent passers-by to rob and beat them, occasionally fatally, for pleasure. The place was dirty. Many buildings, even in the heart of Manhattan, were rotting.

That this is just a memory is mainly the achievement of one man: Rudolph Giuliani, now in his eighth year as mayor. Mr Giuliani has from the outset sought to use every lawful means at his disposal to make New York safe for decent people to live and prosper in.

The police were put back on the streets, and their presence is still highly visible. Anyone looking vaguely suspicious was stopped and searched.

The slightest crimes, such as graffiti, led to arrests.

Prison became a near-certainty for offenders rather than a remote option.

As a result of this zero-tolerance, the city's murder rate fell by 70.6 pc between 1991 and 1998. The robbery rate in the same period fell by 60.1pc.

In London, by contrast, there has been a visible deterioration in law and order and public safety in the past 12 months. With London facing its first mayoral elections in eight weeks, the fight against crime hardly appears to be a priority with the main candidates.

We wait in vain for any of them to offer their unqualified support to the police in their attempts to take bogus asylum seekers off the streets, to stop increasingly militant vagrants accosting members of the public, to staunch the unacceptable rise in street crime or to make inroads into the socially corrosive explosion in drug dealing.

Indeed, their permissive attitude to law enforcement was exemplified this weekend when, in a debate about homosexual rights, both Frank Dobson and Steve Norris said they would not want police resources used to prevent 'discreet public sex' between men in London.

Given the offence these activities cause to many families who wish to take their children to places such as Hampstead Heath, it displays a woeful lack of understanding of the sort of society decent people wish to live in.

It is beyond doubt that many so-called asylum seekers in Britain are fleeing not political oppression but a lack of criminal opportunities.

LAST week the Mail highlighted the story of Romanian Maria Nistor who, despite living rent-free in a suburban home and supported by substantial state handouts, was nonetheless importuning travellers on the London Underground for money until arrested.

These same criminals have, in the past few months, become commonplace on the pavements and in the shop doorways of the West End of London.

Unlike in New York, where vagrants are moved on within minutes by policemen on the beat, London's beggars, posing as refugees, seem to take up position semi-permanently.

It is supremely ironic that the part of London most attractive to tourists from all over the world - the West End with its theatres, shops, galleries and restaurants - is fast turning into a cesspit. The streets between Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden are the prime site for drug dealing, homosexual prostitution, aggressive begging and street crime - and the police's presence appears scarcely visible.

Anyone from Britain seeing New York today under the rule of Mr Giuliani should feel deep unease. London shows many signs of moral and physical decay similar to those in New York a generation ago - but there is no Giuliani to sort it out.

Just as Times Square and the theatre district of New York were the haunts of prostitutes and beggars, so London's theatreland acts as a magnet for the homeless and drug dealers. …

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