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Free calls fuelling drug dealing epidemic end

PUBLISHED: 07:00 19 December 2018

An InLinkUK phone box in Bethnal Green Road. Picture: KEN MEARS

An InLinkUK phone box in Bethnal Green Road. Picture: KEN MEARS

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Neighbours have claimed victory after a firm linked to Google ended free phone box calls used by drug addicts to score their fixes.

Free calls have been disabled to deter drug users from using the boxes to arrange their fixes. Picture: KEN MEARSFree calls have been disabled to deter drug users from using the boxes to arrange their fixes. Picture: KEN MEARS

Users had been using BT InLink UK boxes in the borough to call dealers and arrange drop offs with addicts gathering in neighbourhoods to pick up their drugs.

But BT InLink UK has cut the calls after residents complained addicts had been intimidating them, robbing from their cars and breaking into buildings to shoot up.

Penny Creed, from the Weavers Community Action Group, said: “We welcome anything that makes it harder for these deals to happen.”

Fellow member, Jonathan Moberly, added: “It’s been a huge problem. [InLinks] are used on an industrial scale.”

InLinkUK phone boxes along Bethnal Green Road.InLinkUK phone boxes along Bethnal Green Road.

A Met investigation spanning 105 days found that five in Whitechapel, Bethnal Green Road and Commercial Road were used for drugs misuse more than 20,000 times.

A campaign led by the ‘Columbia Road Cartel’ saw signs go up around Bethnal Green in September reading ‘Crack pick up point’ and ‘Drug dealers only’ to highlight residents’ anger.

And in August 30 men from a Whitechapel gang peddling heroin and crack cocaine were jailed with the phone boxes mentioned in court as instrumental in striking the dodgy deals.

A spokeswoman for BT and InLink said they were committed to stopping users abusing the service.

“Unfortunately, some users in limited locations abuse the service, and we’re committed to stopping that.

“We have been proactively working with both the council and the Met to understand how we can alter the management of InLinks to assist in the work happening to combat ongoing social issues in the area.

“As part of these discussions it was suggested that the ability to call mobile phones for free could be a key factor in some of the anti-social behaviour that has been reported, so as part of our continued efforts to better serve communities we have temporarily removed the ability to make free phone calls to mobile phones from all InLinks in the borough.”

She added that the impact of the change would be monitored.

A council spokeswoman said: “We will monitor the effectiveness of this measure and this will inform our future approach.”

InLink UK – backed by Alphabet, Google’s parent company – has been rolling out the boxes across cities replacing some BT phone boxes.

The Met has objected to bids to install more in the borough saying they are a magnet for dealing, begging and defecating in the street.

A police spokeswoman said: “The final decision rests with the council but police will offer advice where practical.”

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