Tuesday 11 August 2009

Thamesmead - more 'enrichment'


Thamesmead was intended to be a vibrant, riverside community in south-east London. Forty years after being built, the area is known as a notorious hub of fraud, dubbed "Little Lagos" because of its association with west African criminal gangs, says Phil Kemp.

On the south bank of the Thames to the east of Greenwich stand smart, futuristic-looking tower blocks of riverside apartments.

They are the most recent phase of development in the new town, Thamesmead, which was 40 years old last year.

It was built on a wave of optimism in the 1960s, as a panacea to London's overcrowded inner cities, and opened in a blaze of publicity.

The Fraud Capital of Britain is on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 11 August at 2000 GMT
Or listen later via the iPlayer

But in the last five years it has earned a reputation as the fraud capital of the UK.

Andrew Goodwill, director of the Third Man Group, a fraud prevention service which screens internet transactions to help retailers detect credit card fraud, said the company's database reveals Thamesmead's SE28 to have the worst record of any postcode in the country.

"Last year we indicated it was the capital in the UK for credit card fraud. And actually we went as far as to say it was probably the capital of Europe for credit card fraud as well."

He said the company has identified an entire street in the town where there is evidence of people being involved in fraud at every address.

New flats built in the last few years have lured young, aspirant professionals to the area, but residents suspect they have also attracted fraudsters.

One day, the delivery company rang up and said: 'I'm just checking who you are - we've got a parcel and we wanted to make sure more or less that we think you're ok'
Anne-Marie Griffin

"There was clearly at one point a ring of people who were raiding the letter boxes," says Anne-Marie Griffin, who bought a flat with her husband Barry under a shared ownership scheme in 2005.

"There were multiple letterboxes that were just ripped open but also piles and piles of mail on their hall floors in all different names for all different kinds of companies," she said.

Credit cards and benefit claims offer rich pickings for fraudsters with access to a genuine address and letter box.

"My husband gets quite a lot of deliveries for work and one day, the delivery company rang up and said: 'I'm just checking who you are - we've got a parcel and we wanted to make sure more or less that we think you're ok'," says Ms Griffin.

She said the company told her it was beginning to refuse to deliver to the area because the person answering the door would ask who the parcel was addressed to and then sort through a stack of credit cards all under different names.

'Eight mobiles'

And this is not a problem that is unique to the Griffins' estate. Another resident at a development further up the Thames said the concierge office for his apartment block looked like an Aladdin's cave of electrical goods such as mobile phones, plasma TVs and cameras.

A local postman said he could recall having to deliver seven or eight mobile phones to the same address in the same week.

One theory why this part of south-east London has attracted fraud is because of its connections to West African gangs, earning its nickname "Little Lagos".

In a report by think-tank Chatham House, a British police officer said that convicted fraudsters tend to escape significant punishments and tend to abscond fairly frequently while on bail.

Those who do not flee may have British passports or families resident in the UK, and they regard a short prison sentence as an
"occupational hazard", worth risking for the large proceeds of fraud they can enjoy when they get out.

Once an area earns a reputation, it is re-enforced as this kind of profile attracts more criminals.

A former fraudster from southern Africa said that even before she became involved with a criminal gang using stolen credit cards and cashing cheques, she had heard of the town's reputation.

"I used to hear people say if you go to Thamesmead anything you want, you will find it," she says, talking to the BBC at a park in south London.

"I was preparing for my child. My partner wasn't there. I think that's what pushed me into doing it. I was desperate."

She says she has now turned her back on her criminal past and is keen to discourage others from getting involved in fraud.

And residents' groups say they have had some success in cleaning up the area with the help of the police and other local organisations.

One such group is the Youth Awareness Programme run by Roy Gisby, who was a moonlighting construction worker when the first estates were being built in Thamesmead in the late 1960s.

"If you give something a bad name then it will live up to that name," he says. "So Thamesmead was known as a troublesome area particularly with gangs."

The concrete high-rises that surround the project were the setting for Stanley Kubrick's violent film, Clockwork Orange. Its bleak, futuristic depiction of violent youth has stained the town's reputation ever since.

But Mr Gisby believes the area has changed for the better. He said recent investment has given Thamesmead's younger population a more promising future:

"A lot have grown up in Thamesmead. It's been here 40 years and some are quite proud of living in Thamesmead so I think things are changing," he said.

"I don't see why you shouldn't be positive about Thamesmead."

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alanorei said...

Sad to read about your friend Alex Edmonds, Lee. It's always hard when someone close passes away, especially suddenly or prematurely.

Re: fraud, I believe it costs the country £20,000,000,000 a year now, around 1.5-2% of GDP. It is as your article shows disproportionately foreign-related.

Anonymous said...

I used to live opposite Thamesmead in Plumstead. Sometimes when younger after a night out i'd fall asleep on the night bus, and wake in horror in Thamesmead at the end of the line. This was around 18 years ago, it was pretty horrific then but now, it must be a a war zone.

Anonymous said...

He said the company has identified an entire street in the town where there is evidence of people being involved in fraud at every address.

Thanks Labour conservatives liberals mass immigration

alanorei said...

BBC (yes, BBC!) Crimewatch tonight showed the capture of a Chinese gang using fraudulent cards to purchase high-quality goods. They were at the centre of an international scam in 20 countries that had netted £3,500,000 worth of goods; watches, rings, etc. The investigation by London City Police is said to be 'on-going.'

Maybe 'never ending' would be a more accurate term in these times of 'enrichment.'