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BT urged to axe free calls from telephone boxes used for drug dealing

PUBLISHED: 15:24 12 April 2019 | UPDATED: 15:25 12 April 2019

Drug Dealing at InLink phone boxes in Tower Hamlets. Pic: Racahel Burford

Drug Dealing at InLink phone boxes in Tower Hamlets. Pic: Racahel Burford

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Tower Hamlets Council is urging BT to disable the free calls function on its new ‘smart’ telephone boxes amid claims drug dealers are using them as a business hub.

Funded by advertising, touchscreen InLink kiosks give free calls, ultra-fast wifi and phone-charging and are intended to replace 1,000 payphones across the UK.

However the council and police say the kiosks are being used to facilitate drug dealing and anti-social behaviour with 20,000 calls used for illegal activity.

One drug gang is thought to have made £1.28million worth of sales from a panel in Whitechapel.

In December, Tower Hamlets became the first council in the country to temporarily stop calls from 18 in the borough.

After the call facility was switched off, there was a ‘significant decrease in anti-social behaviour’ in the streets around the phones, a council spokesman said.

One weekend during the trial, the free call function was accidentally switched on again, and within hours the council received complaints that drug takers were using the units. CCTV showed users forming orderly queues to place orders.

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs has written to BT and its partner InLink to demand the calls function is turned off permanently.

Chief Superintendent Sue Williams, from the Met’s central east basic command unit, said: “We found overwhelming evidence that the telephone function of these units was linked to crime and anti-social behaviour locally.”

Westminster Council said it has also linked anti-social behaviour to the kiosks and has backed Tower Hamlets.

In February the borough won a landmark legal case after applications for 300 new phone boxes were submitted in just two years. The local authority argued the panels were just cheap advertising space in high profile locations like Oxford Street, Edgware Road and Baker Street.

A spokesman said: “Council’s across the country are fighting to get unwanted pay phones off the streets and where possible prevent them being installed in the future.

“We recognise Tower Hamlets’ frustration.”

InLink said it has developed software to manage anti-social behaviour, with a new automatic call-blocking feature on digital street units to prevent misuse of free calls.

An algorithm identifies suspicious call patterns and phone numbers, which are then blocked. Inlink said this would ensure that its kiosks are ‘a valued part of the communities they serve’.

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