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'Return Finsbury Park to law abiding citizens': Islington's police chief pledges to deal with violent crime wave

PUBLISHED: 13:11 18 July 2019 | UPDATED: 13:34 18 July 2019

Ch Supt Raj Kohli. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Ch Supt Raj Kohli. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

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Islington's highest ranking police officer is "acutely conscious" of the violent crime wave gripping Finsbury Park and has pledged do something about it.

Ch Supt Raj Kohli, who leads the central north basic command unit representing Islington and Camden, has spoken out two weeks after an altercation saw one man shot, allegedly inside the park, before a second man was found with stab wounds in Seven Sisters Road.

Other recent attacks, among a catalogue of serious incidents in the area, include the stabbing of a man in his 60s in Moray Road on July 6 and an 18-year-old being left with "potentially life-threatening injuries" after he was shot and stabbed near the Six Acres Estate on June 8.

"The geography of Finsbury Park makes it challenging to police," Ch Supt Kohli told the Gazette. "The incident a couple of weeks ago is not an Islington matter [it happened in Haringey], but that's irrelevant. We intend to return the park back to the people it belongs to, because it's not acceptable and it will be dealt with. [...]

"I'm not going to dispute that Finsbury Park needs our attention. I'm not going to hide behind the 11 per cent reduction in knife crime across Islington [compared with last year] when people in Finsbury Park are afraid to use the park." This is a rolling year-on-year figure as of July 16.

Finsbury Park is carved up between Islington, Hackney and Haringey and a tri-borough policing operation aimed at stamping out drug deals and anti-social behaviour in the area is in the process of being implemented. There are currently four dedicated coppers in the Islington part of the ward, Ch Supt Kohli said. It's believed turf rivalry between gangs pedalling drugs is fuelling the spate of violent crime.

In response to the community's alarm over two recent shootings in as many months, the top cop said gun crime in Islington has actually reduced over the past six months, arguing the levels are so low that even one fewer incident could account for a reduction of about 22 per cent.

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But he added: "This means nothing to residents in Finsbury Park. I could tell them it's down 100pc and they would say: 'Yeah but we had someone shot and [someone else] stabbed here two weeks ago.'"

He said he's already scheduled "face-to-face" talks with the commander of north east BCU, which formed in January by merging Enfield and Haringey police, to discuss how cops can "return the park to law abiding citizens".

The latest Met Police statistics show there's been a 19.94 per cent increase in violence and sexual offences in Finsbury Park ward between June 2018 and May 2019. It was also ranked as Islington's most crime-ridden area in May, with 418 reported offences including 72 incidents of violence and sexual offences.

But Ch Supt Kohli said: "Across the piece Camden and Islington has seen a big drop in violence against people under the age of 25 over the past 12 months.

"We are seeing reasonable reductions and that's against a backdrop of stop and search tactics. We are the third lowest user of stop and search, which is a controversial and politically very challenging tactic." He said Islington was ninth out of London's 12 BCUs for stop and searches over that period.

A mob of men brandishing "machetes" and chasing another group near Essex Road were reported to police on Saturday, promoting a S60 order to be authorised until Sunday morning. This allows police officers to stop and search any person or vehicle without reasonable suspicion.

The Gazette asked Ch Supt Kohli why S60 orders are happening in Islington most weekends, and some readers feel they can't go one week without encountering a police cordon on their walk home from work somewhere around Finsbury Park.

He said: "What doesn't help, along with everything else like depravation and socioeconomic challenges, is the weather. Hot weather makes people fly off the handle that bit much more easily. I'm not saying this wouldn't happen if it was cold, but my sense is things happen more angrily in the heat."

Ch Supt Kohli added: "The bottom line is I'm acutely conscious of Finsbury Park specifically and I fully intend to do something about it."

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