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Wireless Festival: Terror of neighbours as Finsbury Park streets ‘taken over by gangs’

PUBLISHED: 08:01 13 July 2017 | UPDATED: 09:02 13 July 2017

Police in Finsbury Park over the weekend.

Police in Finsbury Park over the weekend.

Archant

Another Wireless Festival, another weekend of “hell” for neighbours in Finsbury Park.

A file image of Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, taken in 2015. Thousands enjoy the event each year. But neighbours are concerned about anti-social behaviour in surrounding streets. Picture: Andrew Whitton A file image of Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, taken in 2015. Thousands enjoy the event each year. But neighbours are concerned about anti-social behaviour in surrounding streets. Picture: Andrew Whitton

Inside the park on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, thousands of fans celebrated the music of Chance the Rapper, Skepta, The Weeknd and Nas.

But in the park’s surrounding streets on the border of Hackney and Islington, anxious neighbours this week told the Gazette there’s a menacing undercurrent of criminality – and they don’t know how much more they can take.

It ranges from the relatively harmless (drinking in the street and “pissing and pooing” in gardens) to “terrifying” (gang brawls and open drug dealing).

The annual Wireless event has only been held in Finsbury Park since 2014. But homeowners and tenants say crime is already ingrained in the festival’s culture.

Anita Anderson, of Queen’s Drive, said: “The main thing is drug dealing. It was absolutely rampant throughout the weekend. You see boys on mopeds offering kids drugs in the streets.

Suspected drug use in the streets around Finsbury Park during Wireless Festival, photographed by a neighbour. Suspected drug use in the streets around Finsbury Park during Wireless Festival, photographed by a neighbour.

“My friend said it was the same in Ambler Road and Wilberforce Road. I think Wireless now has a reputation, and that is getting exploited by these gangs. The streets around the park have become a real nucleus for these dealers to make a lot of money.”

A Wilberforce Road woman, who didn’t want to give her name after a weekend of intimidation, echoed Ms Anderson’s testimony.

She said: “The level of aggression in Wilberforce Road was terrifying. It was lawless. Anti-social behaviour was off the scale.

“There was a gang chase, of about 20 people, running down the road. We asked one of the stewards about it, and he said: ‘I’m not risking getting stabbed.’ And I totally get that.”

A man, also from Wilberforce Road, told the Gazette he was assaulted by two boys when he confronted them over drug dealing outside his house. He said: “I do not want to exaggerate, but I have to say only the riots in 2011 came close to this.

A file image of Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, taken in 2014. Thousands enjoy the event each year. But neighbours are concerned about anti-social behaviour in surrounding streets. Picture: Yui Mok/PA A file image of Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, taken in 2014. Thousands enjoy the event each year. But neighbours are concerned about anti-social behaviour in surrounding streets. Picture: Yui Mok/PA

“I did not feel safe to go out to the street, especially on the Sunday night. And I have lived in Colombia and Russia, so have seen quite some things.”

Simon Couzens, of Finsbury Park Road, said “more lines are being crossed each year”, and that Wireless is “is something we have grown to dread”.

Referring to open drug taking in the streets, he said: “To me, it seems some things that would not have been acceptable a couple of years ago have become a fact of life. They almost have a licence to do it.”

The park is in Haringey, but borders Islington and Hackney. And Mr Couzens said: “We don’t seem to have much power to effect change. Haringey Council calls the shots, but the residents of Hackney and Islington suffer the consequences as people spill out onto their streets.

“I understand councils are under terrible financial constraints. But we don’t seem to get anything in return [for money Wireless pays to hire the park]. In 2011, the jamboree play area shut. And the park is getting run down.

“If the council said: ‘We are going to make your lives hell for a few days, but we are going to invest in the park,’ that would be great. But it doesn’t happen.”

A Haringey Council spokeswoman said Hackney Council had been responsible for positioning stewards in the side streets off Seven Sisters Road – such as the ones the Gazette has heard from. Festival Republic, which runs Wireless, is understood to have paid for the stewards. It has not responded to requests for comment.

The Haringey spokeswoman said: “We are currently gathering statistics from the weekend in relation to issues such as anti-social behaviour. However, we – along with Festival Republic and the police – took a number of steps to ensure the event caused as little disruption to residents as possible. This included increasing the number of police and stewards on duty and creating a queuing system within the park to keep exiting festivalgoers off the street.

“Wireless is a major cultural event attended by many local residents and showcasing local talent. It brings in hundreds of thousands of pounds of income which go directly into the local parks, ensuring Finsbury Park remains a top class facility for residents in Haringey, Hackney and Islington the whole year round.”

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