Does ‘Murder Mile’ still deserve its name?

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“Eight men shot dead in two years. Welcome to Britain’s Murder Mile”, read the Independent’s headline in January 2002.

The article was about Clapton Road, a stretch of tarmac in Hackney at that time known as one of the most dangerous areas of London.

But, almost 15 years later and with gentrification creeping into all corners of the borough, does Hackney’s Murder Mile still deserve its reputation?

Visiting Murder Mile on a sunny Sunday afternoon, it certainly does not seem like the type of place where you would expect to see a shooting. Punters mill about, business owners chat over cups of tea.

The area has all the normal marks of gentrification that can be found in Hackney – a man dressed all in black paints the front of what looks to be a new Clapton “crêperie”, and Café 119, imaginatively named after its door number, is stuffed to the brim with Macbook-tapping, gourmet coffee-swilling hipsters.

Hüdai Gamze owns one of the newer businesses in the area, Gamze Framing. Having moved his premises from Amhurst Road a year and a half ago, he describes the area as “peaceable”.

“I’ve never had any trouble”, he adds, “although rents are high.” The price of living in Hackney has risen exponentially since the Nineties.

Adjusted for inflation, in 1995 the average price of a home in Clapton postcode E5 was £102,557. Now it is £479,453, an increase of over 360 per cent.

But all is not as it seems.

Crime rates in Murder Mile

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Lower Clapton Road together with Upper Clapton Road earned the nickname Murder Mile; Credit: Fat Les via flickr

There are signs that the murders that took place in the late Nineties and early 2000s still haunt the area.

Statistics show that crime has significantly fallen in the area since 2002, but this doesn’t necessarily correlate with a drop in homicides. In September of last year, yet another shooting rocked the area.

Moses Fadairo, a 25-year-old father of three, died after being shot on Chatsworth Road. Witnesses described a horrific scene, with blood splattered across the floor of Mighty Meats butchers.

“I was just having a coffee,” says another witness who did not want to be named. “I heard the sirens and when I came outside I saw a body on the ground.”

A year before, in December 2014, three men were arrested for the murder of Joseph Burke-Monerville, who was shot on Hindrey Road in Clapton in February 2013.

While these incidents are few and far between, this is in a country where fewer than 10 per cent of murders are committed using firearms.

It’s markedly unusual for fatal shootings to occur with any regularity in a particular area.

Hackney Council report released in January 2016 painted a sombre picture, seemingly showing that while in other areas the borough is improving, crime rates are still a worry.

“Hackney has become significantly less deprived compared with other local authorities in relation to income, employment, housing and services, living environment and deprivation affecting children compared with 2010, but relatively more deprived in relation to crime,” it reads.

There were 25 per cent fewer crimes committed in January 2016 compared to December 2010 in E5, but a 52.5 per cent increase in violent crime.

Murder Mile today

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The East London Vintage Fair, part of the changing face of Murder Mile; Credit: Charlie Brinkurst-Cuff

“It’s still a little bit dodgy,” says Dominique Miller, founder of the East London Vintage Fair which is held in Clapton’s Round House.

Miller, originally  from Peebles in Scotland, has lived in Hackney for more than 15 years, and has witnessed the changing nature of the area first-hand.

“You still have to be on your toes everywhere in Hackney. Some of the people who come into the area don’t really respect that. We should all be able to get together.”

Arguably, unlike some of the other businesses in Clapton, Miller has made sure the vintage fair is as inclusive as possible.

“I make sure that you can go in there and spend £2 on a scarf or £500 on a super rare dress. It’s very important to me that there’s something for everybody.”

Councillor Michael Desmond, who has lived in the area for most of his life and represents the Hackney Downs ward, speaks about Clapton positively, and recognises how much it has changed during his 22 years working as a councillor.

“It’s a wonderful area, nowadays we don’t just get Hackney hipsters, we have our own Clapton hipsters too,” he says enthusiastically, adding that while there’s “not a great deal of tension between newcomers and locals”, Clapton still does have its issues.

“Historically it has a bad reputation. This has improved a great deal in recent years. The other day I was on Chatsworth Road when I noticed a band of ukulele players set up – this is a road where I used to look nervously behind myself when canvassing.

“It’s not perfect of course, there was a spate of burglaries last year, but crime has gone down over the past five years, roughly by 34 per cent. Recently I met a student from Oxford who told me she felt safer in Clapton, which shows you how much it’s changed. Back in the day it wasn’t just the crime, it was the fear of crime.”

Desmond believes that the main issues facing Clapton now, along with the rest of Hackney, are to do with schooling and housing.

The area is desperately short on schools, and as put by journalist Maya Oppenheim, writing for East London Lines,

“While it is undeniable that Clapton is changing, the changes fail to benefit the majority of its residents. In a predominantly low-income area, fancy cheeses and cutesy cupcakes are out of most people’s price range.”

“The vast majority do welcome aspirational people,” says Desmond, “But, people are upset they can’t buy or rent in the area.

“Even Diane Abbott, our local MP, said she wouldn’t be able to afford this area at the moment. People want to stay because it’s improving.”

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