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TUESDAY 27  FEBRUARY 2024

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Drugs, knives and crime …just another day shopping in affluent West London

The man entering Sainsbury’s ahead of me looked down at the figure sitting cross-legged outside and wrinkled his nose in distaste.

 

I followed his glance and saw that the young man on the pavement had a small knife and was methodically slicing it into his fingers. His hands were covered in blood.

 

I momentarily felt intense pity for him and wanted to help. Then a less worthy thought crept in: What am I, Mother Teresa? He’s a blood-soaked drug addict. Just walk away.

 

And I did.

 

Afterwards, I felt ashamed – Biblical shame for passing by on the other side. But, in the plus column, I hadn’t exposed myself or my family to the several potentially fatal diseases sometimes lurking in the blood of addicts.

 

Wherever you turn in my affluent area of West London, you will find evidence of the drugs scourge that is wrecking and sometimes ending lives.

 

As I write this, I am just back from another shopping trip. We walked along the High Road and up ahead a man was reeling along the pavement, high or drunk. I feared he might lurch into the accursed cycle lane and be mown down.

 

But no, he steadied himself and then went skipping off up the road, performing pirouettes and singing along to whatever was coming out of his headphones. So, not drunk, but definitely high.

 

Half an hour later, our string bags sagging with fruit and veg, we heard a commotion across the road. It was a man and a woman, both homeless by the look of them, shouting at each other at the top of their voices. The sound and fury of narcotics.

 

No one paid the slightest attention to their bellowing. Just another day in paradise.

 

Drugs, of course, have an umbilical link to crime. They were certainly responsible for the recent surge in shoplifting which, as far as I can tell, has subsided a little.

 

They might also have been behind the cruellest crime I have heard of in a long time. Ex-Royal Marine Mark Ormrod, 40, who lost both legs and an arm to a Taliban booby-trap in Afghanistan, had his prosthetic legs stolen from his car as he stayed at a hotel on the Hogarth Roundabout on the A4.

 

The father of three, from Plymouth, is some tough guy because guess what else they stole … his Ju-jitsu kit. That’s right, he’s a triple amputee who does Ju-jitsu.

 

Ormrod, an MBE and a friend of the Duke of Sussex through their shared interest in the Invictus Games, was twice pronounced dead as he was evacuated from the battlefield but pulled through.

 

Since then, he has run 3,500 miles across the United States on Oscar Pistorius-style blades and cycled 3,000 miles around Britain to raise money for the Royal Marines’ charity.

 

I doubt if anyone deserves the title of hero more than Ormrod and thankfully, he got his possessions back. A woman found them abandoned by the thieves in an alley at the back of her house.

 

I have no evidence that they were on drugs when they smashed into Ormrod’s car but the Hogarth Roundabout has form in this respect. It is a haunt of dealers and addicts. Two women have been found dead nearby from overdoses.

 

Just before Christmas, a man was arrested there by police on suspicion of carrying a knife, drug-dealing and assaulting an officer. He allegedly had 100 wraps of heroin and cocaine with him.

 

A few days before his arrest, witnesses reported many people being escorted from an empty Tesla showroom on the roundabout. And a nearby house that was being used as a drug den has been cleared and shuttered.

 

It would be easy to criticise police for not cracking down sooner but they are overwhelmed by other crimes and must resort to hastily putting a sticking plaster on the latest wound.

 

Besides, the drugs crisis is mostly fuelled not by the likes of that lost soul self-harming outside Sainsbury’s, but by the middle classes who pass around the cocaine at the end of their dinner parties.

 

That’s why the dealers pitch camp in swanky neighbourhoods.

 

*****

 A postscript to the Daily Drone’s exclusive story on Mirror editor Alison Phillips’s departure. Rumours also surround Reach managing editor Andy Taylor, whom old Express hands will remember from his time on the paper.

 

He has been seen at GB News, the TV station that’s slightly to the right of Genghis Khan, and the gossip at the water-cooler is about whether he too is jumping ship.

 

Taylor has (naturally, given his position) been closely involved in the redundancy process that is going on at Reach – 450 proposed sackings, 300 of them journalists. It is not a job that wins you popularity contests.

 

But it reminds me of a story I heard during my days on the Yorkshire Post, back in the Seventies. Deputy to editor John Edwards was a charming Scot called Iain Mór Lindsay-Smith.

 

He was, I think, foreign editor on the Daily Sketch when it was in its death throes. The editor called him in and started by blowing smoke up his fundament – “You get on well with the staff… this is better coming from you than from me … I know you’ll help to ease the blow.”

 

Then he asked Lindsay-Smith to deliver the brown envelopes to those members of staff who were the chosen victims of the corporate axe.

 

Reluctantly, Lindsay-Smith donned the black cap. When he had finished, he returned to report job done. At which point he was handed his very own brown envelope.

 

Incidentally, the Mór part of his name is Scots Gaelic and means large or ample. I don’t recall him being a large man but he certainly had an ample personality. While on Donald Trelford’s Observer, he would pipe the paper off the stone with his bagpipes.

 

And when Leftie thespian Corin Redgrave, brother of Vanessa, sued the Observer for revealing his plans for a Marxist revolution, he made the mistake of carrying the hat round in the Observer pub. Lindsay-Smith physically threw him out. Redgrave also lost his case against the paper.

 

*****

 I was delighted to learn, through the Off the Spike column by my old friend Terry Manners, that the lads at the Neasden Omnibus Depot enjoyed the latest showing of Zulu.

 

Me, too. The Michael Caine classic is one of my favourite movies and that scene where the Zulus mass on the hilltop to salute the courage of the men of the 24th Regiment of Foot still gives me goosebumps.

 

As Terry reminds us, the action earned many VCs for the regiment (later known as the South Wales Borderers). Terry says 12 heroes gained the ultimate honour but I think the figure might be 11.

 

In any case, one of them went to Fred Hitch, who lived and died in the house opposite mine.

 

Hitch is buried in a rather grand tomb, with a pith helmet carved into the granite, at the cemetery next to our church, St Nicholas, and his house has a blue plaque on the wall.

 

With Corporal William Allen – no relation to Lily, as far as I know, but wouldn’t it be a delicious irony? – he stayed at his post and defended the hospital at Rorke’s Drift, moving patients out under fierce fire from Zulus on the hill.

 

Both soldiers were seriously wounded, with Hitch taking a bullet in the shoulder. But after their wounds were dressed, they rejoined their comrades to keep them supplied with ammunition through the night.

 

Hitch was a scallywag. Illiterate, he signed his enlistment papers with an X. And when he was invalided out of the Army the father of eight drove a horse-drawn cab – and later a motorised one – to supplement his £10 a year disability pension.

 

He also ran a pub and sometimes acted as a fence for stolen goods. Some even claim he sold his medal, which he always proudly wore pinned to his chest, and pretended it had been stolen.

 

A VC is all very well but it doesn’t pay the bills.


RICHARD DISMORE


16 January 2024