I don’t often (if I ever have) republish council press releases on here, but the one below is – I think – a great story and worth repeating. There’s something particularly callous about this type of crime, where the vulnerable are conned out of huge sums of money by criminals who are pretending to help.

A few things I want to pick out.

First is the warning: it’s is disappointing that we have to be suspicious, but there are a lot of rogue builders and various other con-artists out there. A genuine tradesman won’t mind if you check their credentials or ask for other quotes.

Second is the value of partnership working: we scored a major success here partly because of the quick thinking of the victims nephew and partly because of the great work between the council and the police in responding quickly to the call.

Third I have to congratulate the Community Safety Team: they have put a huge amount of work into this area and it’s fantastic when it pays off like this. I was being updated while this particular incident was taking place so know all the work that was put in both before, during and after.

If you have any concerns, or know anyone about whom you are concerned, contact the council’s Community Safety Division on the number at the bottom of the press release.

Rogue builders foiled in £16k OAP scam

The council’s crime prevention team is warning residents, especially the elderly, to be on their guard against rogue builders and doorstep con artists after a pensioner in Roehampton was almost swindled out of £16,000 earlier this week.

The woman was visited by two men who claimed to be builders and said that her roof needed urgent repairs. They said the job would cost £16,000.

It was the second time that the woman had been targeted in two years. In 2007 a similar scam ended up costing her £14,000.

Fortunately this time the fraudsters luck ran out, thanks to a long-standing council initiative designed to prevent burglary and con-trick victims being hit a second time.

When the woman was swindled two years ago, she was visited by council officers who advised her and her relatives on ways of avoiding a repeat offence. One of the solutions suggested to the family was to give one of her nephews power of attorney over her finances so that she would not be able to write cheques or pledge large amounts of money without consulting them.

So when the woman rang her nephew last Thursday to tell him she needed a cheque for £16,000, he realised something was amiss and called the council’s community safety team for advice.

Staff at the town hall immediately rang Wandsworth police and arranged for “a welcoming committee” of officers to wait at the woman’s house for when the builders returned for their money.

Community safety spokesman Cllr James Cousins said: “Thanks to the nephew’s quick thinking and the immediate responses from both the staff at the town hall and local police, these two con artists have been stopped from swindling an elderly woman out a large portion of her life’s savings.

“After the lady lost so much money to thieves a couple of years ago, her family was given useful advice by the council’s crime prevention team to try and prevent it happening again. I am delighted that they took that advice on board and used it not only to stop this money being stolen, but also had the presence of mind to contact us so that the fraudsters could be caught.

“This case highlights the importance of never agreeing to have any work carried out by workmen who tout for business and call at front doors unannounced.

“If this happens to you then there is a strong chance you are about to be ripped off. The work is usually totally unnecessary and the householders face being overcharged and sometimes bullied and intimidated if they refuse to pay.

“If any building work is required it is always best to get at least two written quotations beforehand from established and reputable businesses, together with a detailed specification of the works needed. People should also never pay in full until the work is actually completed.”

Householders are also being advised to refuse to give cold calling builders permission to get up on their roofs. There is evidence to suggest that once on the roof, the workmen cause damage to try and persuade people that repair work is necessary.

Cllr Cousins added: “Our advice is to not let anyone into your house who calls unexpectedly. If you do speak to them, do it through the door or from an upstairs window – and never agree to employ them to carry out any work. We would also urge neighbours to be alert to builders, in particular roofers, who turn up to carry out such work and to report any suspicions they have to the council or the police.

“We are working closely with the police to track down these con-artists, but we do need residents to keep an eye out for their neighbours – especially if they are elderly or vulnerable.”

The council is also appealing to bank and building society staff to be on the lookout for elderly customers withdrawing large amount of cash. They are being urged to try and glean what the money is being used for and if they have any concerns that it may be suspicious, to contact the police or town hall.

People wanting to report suspicious traders to the council should call (020) 8871 6603 and if possible provide details of any vans or cars that are being used, including the registration number, plus a description of the builder/workman.

Anyone wanting advice about home security or crime prevention can use the same number to speak to an officer in the town hall’s community safety division.

The Shaftesbury Safer Neighbourhood Team are holding a drop-in clinic tomorrow (Friday 27 November), between 12 noon and 4pm in the old Peabody Offices on Eversleigh Road.

They will be there to discuss any policing, crime or anti-social behaviour issues you may have. If you can’t get along their contact details are available on the Met’s website and they hold regular public meetings (again listed on the Met website, the next is 5 January at Battersea Arts Centre).

Poppies and crossesAs I go into the weekend I find myself almost computerless (mainly through my own fault) and using an old and slow computer means I’ll be keeping it brief!

Town Centre meetings
I had a meeting with representatives from the borough’s town centre partnerships early in the week which, I thought, was useful and generated a lot of ideas and issues for the council (and the town centres) to take away and work on.

The different character of the five town centres is one of the defining characteristics of Wandsworth and help give the borough its heart soul. There is nothing worse than an out of town shopping centre (having spent a large part of the day at Westfield, I’m glad we have never gone down that route).

It’s easy for a council to concentrate on its residents and not think about the businesses needed to serve the people who live there and provide jobs for local people. While I think we generally do a good job I know we don’t always get it right and am pleased the partnerships are prepared to tell us when we don’t!

Act of Remembrance
I took my son along to the Act of Remembrance in Battersea Park on 11 November. As always it was a moving ceremony that involved not just those affected or involved in the armed forces, but also local children. And while I do get a little annoyed at the few dog-walkers who cannot pause for a moment at 11am, it was good to see most people in the park taking a few minutes to those who have sacrificed so much for us all.

Civic Awards
Another defining characteristic is the council’s commitment to volunteering and giving some recognition to those who have given so much to their community. One of the year’s highlights for this is the Civic Awards which seek to recognise a handful of people each year who have given, voluntarily, huge amounts over the years to the area.

Wednesday saw five awards made to those whose lifetime of commitment had made a difference. It was an opportunity for the council to say thank-you, and for the recipients, their friends and families to celebrate. And one of those nights that really shows that the council is, and should be, about so much more than just providing services.

Building Confidence in Our Community
Finally, I spent yesterday in Roehampton at a conference organised by the police (with some help from the council’s Community Safety Division) about the different factors affecting confidence in the police in the borough.

You might, superficially, think it is just a function of the police themselves – but there are so many factors that affect what people think about safety in the area. We happen to have excellent police, but many other factors seem to determine how people think. For example, many ‘communities’ within the borough have different views because their access is restricted, not deliberately, but because people haven’t thought about their situation.

There were some powerful presentations given, I was particularly touched by two ladies who discussed their experiences of interacting with the police when they were victims of domestic abuse. It is a recurrent theme for me, but it is important to realise that things are very very rarely as clear-cut as they might seem.

One of my mantras since taking on the Community Safety portfolio has been that Wandsworth has the lowest rate of crime in inner London. Given the events of the past week it probably sounds pretty hollow. But I’m going to continue repeating it.

However, you cannot get away from the fact that Wandsworth has witnessed some high-profile and, in one case, tragic incidents recently.

Although we work in a partnership with the police and others on community safety clearly these are largely police matters. The council does not have any remit when it comes to criminal matters like this, although we will obviously be sharing any intelligence we have gathered and assisting the police with things like CCTV footage.

Where we do work together (and the Wandsworth partnership has been around a lot longer than most) is on fear of crime, because the fear of crime is as damaging, sometimes even more damaging, than crime itself.

Many people are ‘fear of crime sceptics’, and I used to be one myself. If crime was tackled, I reasoned, then fear of crime itself would naturally drop. In fact, fear of crime works counter-intuitively and often the less crime the more crime fear – illogical at first sight but a consequence of people, having no evidence to the contrary, assuming that crime is far more destructive and devastating than is actually the case.

As an example (and one I touched on in March when discussing a shootings heat map) Wandsworth was almost totally untouched by the spate of teen shootings in 2007-2008, when, if you remember, it seemed barely a week would go by without a teen being shot in a gang-feud. These and related incidents happened almost exclusively in other boroughs (as the map, compiled from media coverage, shows) yet the fear of gun crime in Wandsworth was twice as high as the London average – the level of fear bore no relation to actual crime in the area. I shudder to think the impact the last week will have had on that statistic.

And, of course, the media doesn’t always help allay this fear, perhaps because police jargon doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to civilians, perhaps because print deadlines don’t allow for the full story, and perhaps because sensationalising a little brings readers. But whatever the reason, it is depressing to see stories that may needlessly cause fear.

It has not been a good week. There’s no getting away from that. But the fact remains that Wandsworth remains a relatively safe borough, and while as an inner city area we’ll never compete with a sleepy village we do very well when competing with the rest of London, and even some of the more suburban boroughs.

Borough of Grimsby policeNeighbourhood policing
Nothing to do with Wandsworth, but the picture is the badge of Grimsby Borough Police, which I spotted on a display at the National Policing Improvement Agency this week. Nothing directly to do with Wandsworth, of course, I spotted because I stood for Great Grimsby in 2001. But it is a little reminder that neighbourhood policing is nothing new.

Up until the mid- to late-sixties there were small borough police forces dotted all over the country (Grimsby’s was amalgamated with Lincolnshire in 1967). Grimsby would have served a population of around 80,000, less than a third the size of Wandsworth (around seven times the size of a Wandsworth ward on which Safer Neighbourhood Teams are based).

Grimsby, like all the other Borough Police Forces, was abolished following the Police Act 1964 in a bid to improve economy and efficiency by having larger policing units. I won’t comment on whether this was a good or bad thing; but just leave it as a reminder that the current vogue for community based policing is little more than a return to the historical roots for the police as a very local service in many parts of the country.

Crime in Wandsworth
It has not been a good week for Wandsworth when it comes to crime, with some high profile incidents. I refrained from commenting on them at the time since I didn’t think this the most appropriate place – this is not a ‘news’ blog and I can’t consistently provide details. I’m also very aware that not everything is for public consumption and I’d rather err on the side of caution than risk compromising ongoing police investigations. Having said that, I am also aware that an information vacuum causes its own problems.

There are, however a few points I’d like to make.

First on the Tooting murder and attack I would like to extend my sympathies the family of Ekram Haque. To have lost a father and grandfather in such a meaningless way is a tragedy I cannot begin to understand.

If anyone has information regarding either of the incidents I would urge them to contact the police.

I would also like to congratulate the police on the speed with which they have responded, not only in making arrests to bring the perpetrators to justice, but also to provide reassurance to the community.

The other ‘bad’ news was the two unrelated shooting incidents in Battersea. Again, congratulations to the police in moving so quickly to make arrests.

I know events like this do nothing to make communities feel safer, even more so when they happen so close together. But I would reiterate that Wandsworth is a relatively safe borough. We are part of an inner city, and that naturally brings problems – we’re never going to complete with a sleepy village on low crime rates – but compared with the rest of London and other cities across the country we are a safe place to live, work and play.

What’s more, despite the Tooting attacks which appear to be racially motivated (both involved black youths attacking Asian victims) we are a harmonious community – despite the diversity we all get along well.

This isn’t to say we can be – or are being – complacent but incidents like these are thankfully rare in Wandsworth and everyone in the community safety partnership are working hard everyday to keep it that way.

Don't steal hangersI have developed a pattern of a post every day. This is a non-post to apologise for no blog post. I’m away, trying to serve the greater good.

The particular way I’m serving the greater good is by working at a training session with potential Community Safety peer reviewers. Now I could use this non-post to discuss the value of peer review in local government (and argue against my party’s policy) but instead I’m going to complain, more specifically I’m going whine about hotels.

Back in March I whinged about the standards by which hotels judged their guests, and by guests I mean hanger-thieving-porn-addicted temporary residents.

This morning I am, again, pleased to be one of the potential hanger-thieving fraternity. Ironically I’ve spent the night in what is, essentially, a police training facility. But I’ve spent it in a police training facility from which, by clever design, hangers not only have no value when stolen, but are also needlessly difficult to use when you are just a guest.

While I’ve been here I’ve also glimpsed the endless training and exercises the police undertake with partners from across the public sector.

So, on behalf of the public, I want to say thank-you to the Police, the Army, the Ambulance Service, health workers and all the others who are here working and training to make us all safer.

And, on behalf of the public, I want to say sorry that we don’t trust you not to steal our hangers.

Summer laziness
As I mentioned last week, things do start getting quieter during late July and August and my council work this week really showed that – I’ve managed to go the whole week without a single trip to the Town Hall. While that doesn’t mean I’ve done nothing (I’m sadly all too available on the phone and via email) it’s quite nice to think that I’ve managed a whole week without a visit to Wandsworth High Street.

More meetings with the police
Following on from last week I had another session with the local police on Thursday, this time with Nick Cuff, who is now the chairman of the Regeneration and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee. It was a useful session and concluded with a short patrol with one a constable from the Tooting town centre team. I hope to do a fuller post about it next week.

SW11 Literary Festival
If there has been one theme it’s been planning for what happens after summer. While there are a number of events planned one of the bigger ones (in terms of time and venues) is the SW11 Literary Festival. This morning saw the launch of the festival’s recipe contest – which will ultimately result in an SW11 recipe book.

The reason I mention this is not my love of food (which I clearly love too much, along with alcohol and not exercising enough), but because it meant I stood on St John’s Road for a good while this morning and was amazed at the number and persistance of ‘chuggers’ – those professional fund-raisers who try and stop you in the street and sign a direct debit.

Again, I want to post on this next week – mainly so I can consider and mull over my thoughts – but I’d be very interested to know other people’s views on chuggers.

My usual end of week wrap-up of bits and pieces I want to highlight or didn’t post about at the time.

Pre-summer council meeting
Wednesday saw the council had it’s last full meeting before the summer recess. Of course, the council doesn’t take a holiday in the same way that Parliament does, but there’s a break in meetings during August before starting again in September. And, like any large organisation, things get a little quieter because of holidays.

The July council meeting always seems to reflect a pre-summer lethargy. I’d always blamed the bad ventilation in the Council Chamber, which made it hot and stuffy in July. But following the collapse of the roof and our move to the Civic Suite I discovered that July is a flat meeting for other reasons.

The debates lacked spark (despite some excellent contributions on our side) and the meeting was other remarkably quickly for a full council.

Of course, there’s also a slight lull because everyone knows that a general election is coming and whatever there are going to be major spending cuts, but politics means that neither party can really address these. Hence the ridiculous language of “0% raises” from Gordon Brown and endless offers of cash that, mysteriously, end in 2010/11 (thus making the next guy seem like the scrooge).

This affects councils of every political complexion, not just Conservative, and while it might make for interesting politics, it’s not the way a country should be run.

I can’t not mention the debate, opened up by the BBC, on CCTV cameras. It is definitely an interesting one; but what I found fascinating (as well as a little reassuring given my feelings on civil liberties) was the common ground I had with Shami Chakrabarti on them when I did BBC Breakfast. It might be a strange alliance, but I think it was something of a victory for common sense. As is often the case, it’s not the sensationalist headline, but the detail behind it. It doesn’t really matter how many cameras any organisation has, it’s the controls behind them that counts.

Another bit from the last week I’m rather pleased with is the discussion started on this blog and continued here, here and elsewhere, about surgeries. Yes, it might seem a minor issue – over the course of the year it’s only 150 man-hours in Wandsworth – but it’s good to see that a blog can start a little debate which, I hope, might lead somewhere.

Meeting the police
This week also saw one of my more formal meetings with the police. While I seem to see them fairly often, one way or another, I do have a regular session with the Borough Commander, Chief Superintendent Stewart Low so we can both catch up with what each side is doing.

Obviously a lot of the meeting is not for repeating here. However, one thing did come across clearly (and shows in the crime maps on this site) is that the recession is having an impact on crime. This is not just a Wandsworth phenomenon, it’s happening across London and the rest of the country.

Burglary is one of the crimes that really seems to be on the up. While the police are doing a great job there’s still a lot we can do to avoid becoming a victim of crime. The Met’s crime prevention pages and the Council’s Community Safety Division both suggest lots of ways you can make yourself safer.

I’ve been producing these weekly reports for a few weeks now, you can read why and some of my thoughts about it. As I commented in there, it’s far from complete, it misses out a lot of the ‘private’ meetings and casework but you may find it interesting…

Lavender Hill Street Party
I take no credit for the Street Party, as I posted on Monday, all the credit belongs else where – but it took up a good chuck of my Sunday and was a truly fantastic event, if you were there I know you’ll agree, if you weren’t then make sure you don’t miss it next year.

Local Strategic Partnership
I attended, as one of the council’s representatives, the Local Strategic Partnership on Wednesday. The Partnership comprises bodies like the council, police, local NHS as well as representatives from local business, the voluntary sector and community groups.

Wednesday saw us spending a lot of time discussing the services we provide for young people, which provided a great example of the importance of partnership working. The council has a target of reducing the number of young people entering the criminal justice system, but the police are meant to increase their arrests – meaning that, unless we co-operate, we are undermining each other’s work!

John Burns School
As posted earlier today I went along for the opening of John Burns School’s new playground. Which is also a new community playground! It is really well equipped, so worth popping along if you have children in the 5-12 age range. It was also great to have a look around the school. I was a school governor there up until around 2002, so it was also good to see how the school had changed and improved over the years.

I’m posting weekly reports as an experiment to see how well received they are. You can read some of my thoughts about it in a blog-post I wrote before commencing the reports. My main concern is that these reports will, by necessity, have to omit so much routine council work they are not a good representation of my work.

Picking up from last week’s report, after posting I headed down to Tooting for the town centre police team launch publicity. While there I also took the opportunity to catch up with the Town Centre Manager and Town Centre Partnership Chairman.

Neighbourhood Watch
Saturday didn’t provide a break. The morning saw the Neighbourhood Watch Conference. Rather shamefully I have not posted about it. It was an incredibly successful event, organised by the council’s Community Safety team for Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinators. The session saw presentations on subjects ranging from art and antiques to dog control and bio-diversity. The conference was attended by representatives from the National Neighbourhood Watch Trust, and it was pleasing that they commented it was one of the best events they’d attended.

Devas Club
On Tuesday I visited, along with Peter Dawson in his capacity as chairman of the Children and Young People’s Service OSC, the Devas Club in Stormont Road. The visit took us from their commercial standard (and hit making, some number ones have been recorded there) music studios in the basement to the sub-standard basket-ball court on the roof (which has a spectacular view that my camera phone just couldn’t do justice).

The club does some great work in engaging youngsters in a building designed for a 1960s, rather than 21st century, youth club. And that shows. First, not all the facilities are what they should be for the users. Second, it means it causes problems for neighbours and coincidentally I’m also dealing with noise complaints from the club.

Wandsworth Business Forum
Last night was the Wandsworth Business Forum in Balham. I posted about it earlier today, so rather than write about it again, will refer you to that post.

Shaftesbury Park School
Finally, this morning, I went into Shaftesbury Park, the school I serve as a governor. For the second time to meet Peter Dawson, who was making an official visit along with David Walden. We spent time looking around the school and chatting about some of the challenges it face and successes it has had.