Closure powers allow the local authority or police to quickly close premises which are being used, or likely to be used, to commit nuisance or disorder. This power can be used for up to 48 hours out of court and is single power that is intended to cover a wide range of behaviours in a quick and flexible way. This replaces specific closure powers noise, drugs, persistent disorder or licensed premises. A breach of a closure notice or closure order is a criminal offence.
As in many urban areas, the tentacles of organised crime reach far into Brent’s neighbourhoods, sustaining a significant level of gang activity and youth violence. However, in London, Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs) can find it difficult to gather adequate resources to tackle the issue effectively, due to the centralised structure of the Metropolitan Police. It can be difficult for CSPs to gain a full picture of organised crime across London, and Organised Crime Groups (OCGs) and urban street gangs exploit the blurred lines between agency responsibilities. However, the problem is being addressed on a neighbourhood level by targeting those premises associated with illegal activity using the new tools and powers introduced by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
One such premises was a café in Harlesden, which was reported to be selling drugs and stolen goods, as well as being the site of several bouts of violence that would often spill out onto the street. For example, a fight was caught on covert CCTV, where knives were used as weapons, as well as shop furniture such as chairs and table legs. Injuries were visible, but when the police attended nobody would come forwards. CCTV showed people clearing up the area before police arrived.
The problem premises was brought to the attention of the partnership through intelligence reports. The problems were severe and ongoing, with reports of incidents rising. Various options were considered, such as increased policing, but it was deemed best to use the new partnership powers granted by the 2014 Act, due to the serious nature of the criminal behaviour, and to provide immediate respite from the disruptive activity to the community.
A Closure Notice was issued and a search warrant executed on the premises simultaneously. A Closure Notice is issued out of court, and can close a premises for up to 48 hours, though it does not restrict access to residents. Following this, a Closure Order can be applied for through the courts. This can close premises for up to six months and can restrict all access. The partnership successfully applied for a 3-month Closure Order, the first time this power had been used in Brent.
The café was acting as a hub for drug dealing and the handling of stolen goods from robberies, burglaries and other theft offences. Individuals known for drug dealing and theft were seen frequenting the site, and disturbances were taking place both inside and outside the venue. This had a negative impact both on the local community; bringing drugs, drug users, thieves and violence into the neighbourhood; and on the wider London area, as the venue was used to sell goods stolen from across London.
In a joint operation between council and police, surveillance was established using CCTV cameras and officers watching the venue. Over three months, the operation gathered sufficient evidence to allow a search warrant to be obtained. The Closure Notice was served at the same time as the warrant was executed, in order to make efficient use of the large number of police officers required.
There were approximately 60 or 70 people on the premises, which resulted in the following arrests:
- 8 people for cannabis possession.
- 1 person for cannabis possession with intent to supply.
- 2 people for money laundering.
- 1 person for fraud.
- 1 person for being wanted on warrant and assaulting police.
- 3 people for immigration offences.
Five cannabis warnings were issued. A search of the venue uncovered between £10,000 and £15,000 in cash, 12 bars of cannabis resin and 20 pairs of designer sunglasses (with tags on).
The manager of the property was arrested for the possession of cannabis. A later search of his home and the homes of two others found more cash, sunglasses and various financial records.
A Closure Order was applied for, on the grounds that:
“A person has engaged, or (if the order is not made) is likely to engage in disorderly, offensive or criminal behaviour on the premises.” (Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Disorder Act 2014).
The case was presented to the Magistrate on the following morning, and the Court issued a 3 month Closure Order.
Currently there is no evidence to suggest that the issues have been displaced from this premises to nearby areas. Previously, groups would gather in the nearby streets to use drugs – presumably they would purchase drugs at the venue and walk a short distance away where they would be safe from CCTV cameras before administering them. Reports of this kind of behaviour in the area have dropped significantly.
This is an example of how the Safer Brent Partnership is making use of the “Achilles’ Heel” approach, which is used to gather intelligence on organised crime and disrupt networks on the basis of other indiscretions, for example targeting shisha bars through violations of smoking laws, food hygiene, waste or fire regulations. A number of premises linked by intelligence to organised crime have been targeted through this approach, with the objective of disrupting the activities of organised crime groups in the borough.
This method both protects surrounding businesses and residents from anti-social behaviour emanating from the premises and cuts off an important arm of larger organised crime groups.
The approach has proven to be effective and is used alongside direct targeting of OCG individuals when evidence allows. This approach is also attractive as it has been possible to resource within existing funding.
Head of Community Safety and Public Protection