John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, has today written to InLink UK, a subsidiary of BT, asking them to permanently switch off the free calls function on its units after they were repeatedly used for drug dealing.
InLink UK had replaced 18 phone boxes with the new style units which combine private advertising with free wifi and calls.
Since then Tower Hamlets Council has received numerous complaints about the units being used for drug dealing and antisocial behaviour. The allegations were supported by the council’s CCTV.
Tower Hamlets Police subsequently found that just six of the 18 units were used to make around 20,000 calls to drug dealers over a four-month period.
As a result, in December, the council asked InLink to switch off the free calls function on all 18 units. This was done on a trial basis and has resulted in a significant decrease in antisocial behaviour.
The free calls function was accidentally switched on again by InLink for a weekend in March 2019. Within hours the council received complaints that drug users were using the units again. This was supported by council CCTV which showed people queuing up next to them.
On Monday, InLink announced new software to manage anti-social behaviour around their units.
Tower Hamlets Council believes there is no guarantee that the new measures will negate the problems.
Today, Mayor John Biggs sent a letter to InLink UK calling for the telephone function to be permanently switched off in Tower Hamlets.
The council has a wider message for similar providers of these units – we do not want them in our borough.
Mayor John Biggs said:
“I am taking strong action against drug-dealing and anti-social behaviour. Together with the police, we have taken steps through Operation Continuum to tackle these issues and we will not allow our progress to be undermined by the use of these units by drug dealers.
“The community benefit to this is supposed to be free wifi and phone calls. But this has resulted in these units being used for thousands of drug deals which our residents are rightly complaining about.
“These days most people have their own mobile devices, and the availability of free Wifi continues to expand. The negatives far outweigh any benefits. That is why we are opposed to these kind of kiosks in our borough.”
Jon Shapiro, resident of Spitalfields and Chair of the Safer Neighbourhood Board in Tower Hamlets, said:
“Switching off the calls has made such a difference to residents. The streets feel safer and there is far less obvious drug dealing and anti-social behaviour.
“Drug addicts would stand around the InLink boxes day and night ordering drugs – an awful sight.
“I am pleased the council and police listened to our complaints and have helped tackle these issues. Nobody wants the calls switched on again.”