The Metropolitan Police have responded to 184 call outs for problems encountered by the staffs of the 11 high street betting shops in and around Thornton Heath in the past three years, according to figures provided to a local resident through a Freedom of Information request.
It is the sort of close police attention that usually only the likes of Julian Assange might attract.
It works out at five police call-outs per month, every month, for a range of anti-social offences, ranging from vagrancy and begging, through to robbery and violence against the person.
Indeed, according to one employee of a turf accountant in Thornton Heath, the management were having to call-out the police so regularly that staff were asked not to phone for help “when things kicked off” to try to reduce the branch’s reputation as a magnet for low-level trouble.
The perception that betting shops could be a focal point for various forms of anti-social behaviour was raised at recent planning and licensing meetings at Croydon Council, where nonetheless permission was given to open Thornton Heath’s 12th bookies, and second Paddy Power, in a prime high street location.
Going by the Met’s figures, the existing Thornton Heath branch of Paddy Power – a bookmaker notorious for creating business with some outrageous betting offers – has certainly been creating a fuss in other ways, with 46 police call-outs between August 2012 and July 2015. Of those call-outs, 28 were for violence against the person.
William Hill has no fewer than six branches within a short walk of Thornton Heath railway station – in common with all the other firms, each of them offering the maximum permitted number of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, dubbed “the crack cocaine of gambling” where punters can spend up to £100 per minute.
These six shops also had their share of trouble, with 66 police calls outs in the past three years, 23 of them – one-third – as a result of an attack by someone against another.
Yet the rate of call-outs was higher at Thornton Heath’s two Corals branches, where the police were required to attend 55 times in the same period.
Nine of those call-outs were as the result of violence, while there 17 reported robberies at the branch on Brigstock Road (only one other of the 11 bookmakers reported any robberies).
In comparison with all that, Thornton Heath’s two BetFred shops appear to offer oases of calm and law and order: 17 police call-outs in the three years, of which seven were after outbreaks of violence.
These police call-out figures for the Thornton Heath bookmakers all appear to be far higher than the likely number of calls from the neighbourhood’s baker’s shops, greengrocers or supermarkets.
Pub landlords have long understood that if their boozer came to require regular visits from the Boys in Blue for reported rowdiness, theft or violence, then their licence renewal could run into difficulties. There doesn’t appear to be any such consequence for turf accountants’ branches who seem to depend increasingly on the Met as their private security firm.
In July, when the latest Paddy Power application was considered by Croydon Council, local residents presented a petition signed by more than 300 people opposing it being granted permission. They were backed in their opposition by safety reports from the clearly overworked Metropolitan Police.
But a report from an official in Croydon’s planning department suggested that bookmakers represent less than 4 per cent of high street businesses in Thornton Heath.
The committee of elected councillors (chair: Paul Scott, Woodside ward, Labour), and who receive additional allowances as a consequence of this responsibility, voted unanimously in favour of Paddy Power opening up their second Thornton Heath shop in a prime site.
Who will put money on it that before the new bookies’ shop opens, they install a hotline to Croydon nick?
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