Mayfair cleared of homeless 'tent city' amid fears of crime wave

Robert Mendick
People camped by Marble Arch were told to leave the area after TFL obtained a court order against them - Jeff Gilbert

On the Monopoly board, Mayfair is London’s most expensive property. Its streets are lined with grand townhouses, embassies and ambassadors’ residences standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of Britain’s fanciest hotels and restaurants.

But beneath this outward appearance of splendour, a crime wave has taken hold. Violence and anti-social behaviour are causing distress and alarm to wealthier residents. There are daily reports of robberies and muggings, while wilder claims – which have proved to be false – of multiple homicides abound, only heightening the tension.

Added to the concern is a large, temporary encampment on Park Lane – Mayfair’s Monopoly twin – of Romanians and Bulgarians, who have been able to resist deportation thanks to a favourable High Court ruling.

Men, women and children sleep rough in tents or on cardboard mattresses, accused of being troublesome beggars and of being behind some petty thefts and pickpocketing.

Last week, The Daily Telegraph witnessed police and council officials clearing them from a campsite in an early-morning raid.

TFL obtained a writ to have people moved on from their land in Mayfair Credit: Jeff Gilbert

Two or three years ago, they would have been deported, but a High Court ruling in 2017 made a Home Office policy of deporting rough sleepers who are EU citizens unlawful. A judge said the discriminatory measure broke freedom of movement rules.

Latest figures published by the Metropolitan Police show violent and sexual offences in Mayfair were reported at the rate of more than two a day. In the 12 months to July, 872 crimes of a violent or sexual nature were reported. In the same period, a robbery per day was committed in the area.

Thefts and petty crimes have spiralled. Thefts – including shoplifting and bicycles – are running at 4,549 reported incidents in a year, the equivalent to more than 80 cases a week.

To put it in context, Hackney Central, an area in east London once notorious as a crime hotspot, reported 493 violent and sexual offences in the same period and 112 robberies, while Peckham, south London, saw 423 violent and sexual crimes and 76 robberies.

Westminster council says the comparisons are unfair because Mayfair is far busier and a more central location. But locals are concerned. Last week, an email circulated among the members of Mayfair’s private clubs suggesting a second murder in three months had been committed on South Audley Street, a road that runs from Grosvenor Square south towards Piccadilly. The claims were unfounded, but reflect growing anxiety.

One shop owner told The Telegraph that a customer had had a £250,000 watch snatched off his wrist in the street, while the owner of a flower shop said: “There is a real and genuine fear of crime now. I had two policemen come here the other day and they said the police had lost the streets.”

About 100 yards away on Thursday morning, officers descended on a makeshift camp in the shadow of Marble Arch. Flanked by outreach workers from Westminster council, the campers, thought to be Romanians and Bulgarians, were ordered to move off private Transport for London land.

Slowly, the campers dragged their possessions across Park Lane. Some piled theirs in a supermarket trolley. Out of the tents appeared pots and pans, an accordion, a broomstick and a 32-inch plasma television. One of the Romanians – Dan – said he hoped to sell it “for a few hundred pounds”.

Dan removed his television when police ordered the camp to be dismantled Credit: Jeff Gilbert

He said he had no money, no job and no food, but did not want to return to Romania. As he puffed on a cigarette and sipped beer, a man hung out of the window of a passing white van and shouted: “Send them home. Send them all home.”

Dan remained unmoved.

TfL said it had gone to court as a last resort after repeated attempts to offer the rough sleepers alternative accommodation failed.

The police were there to make sure there were no breaches of the peace, but were keeping an eye out for cases of modern slavery, including people being held against their will.

Local business owners were pleased to see the group being moved on.

Pandi Raj, who works in a nearby convenience store, said he had arrived at work only to find that people had defecated outside his shop.

“We have filed lots of complaints to the police. Four or five recently,” he said. “They sleep outside and steal all the nuts on display on the pavement. We have been told to be careful and keep a look-out. It’s bad for business. In the evening, when people are sleeping outside, customers won’t come in.”

Pandi Raj says that people have stolen from his convenience store Credit: Jeff Gilbert

A few doors down, a group of elderly women were waking up on mattresses laid out in front of a luxury car garage.

Vanessa Forstner, who works at the family business, said that she pours water on the pavement in an effort to deter people from trying to sleep there.

“It’s a nightmare. It really is,” she said, standing in a showroom filled with cars worth more than £2 million.

“We are in contact with TfL and Westminster council all the time.”

Ms Forstner said the rough sleepers use phone boxes to store their possessions, but they often spill on to the street. “They earn so much money that they can just buy things. Primark duvets are so cheap that it is easy to just buy new ones.”

Scotland Yard said it was aware of anti-social behaviour reports near Marble Arch. “In order to deter criminality, officers in Westminster deploy a number of tactics including high-visibility patrols as well as plain-clothes operations, while offering crime prevention advice to residents, visitors and local businesses,” they added.

Ian Adams, the Westminster Tory councillor in charge of public protection, warned against blaming the largely Romanian and Bulgarian rough sleepers for Mayfair’s crime wave.

“There are inevitably a wide spectrum of perpetrators,” said Mr Adams. “The council very much recognises and shares the concerns of residents and businesses ... around current levels of crime whether that is theft, robbery or other crimes.

“Mayfair is increasingly becoming a magnet for the nighttime economy. It attracts a lot of wealthy people who are being targeted because of the expensive jewellery they are wearing.”

But he urged caution in over-hyping the fears. More police had been promised for the area and tackling robberies was a priority. And comparing Mayfair with outer London neighbourhoods was intrinsically unfair, he said.

The council may be right; but whether the Mayfair locals will gain comfort from that remains to be seen.