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PLAYGROUND FOR DRUGS, VICE GIRLS AND BOY RACERS; Tesco car park turned into all-night crime magnet.

Byline: STEPHANIE BALLOO News Reporter

BY day it's your average Tesco Superstore car park - but by night it becomes a playground for "criminals dealing drugs and having sex with prostitutes", sparking terror among locals.

As midnight strikes and the busy Hodge Hill branch closes its doors, the car park becomes a magnet for antisocial behaviour - with reports of car racing and prostitution.

The gangs exploiting the unused space at night spill into nearby roads, smoking cannabis, drinking and allegedly threatening violence against anyone who challenges them.

"If you go out and say, 'move on', you get a mouthful of abuse and threats'" says Earnest, a pensioner living nearby who keeps a hammer within reach for protection. "They say: 'F*** off you old f***, I'll cut your throat.'" The 70-year-old has seen and heard it all from his home backing onto the Coleshill Road car park - and he says it's only getting worse.

Just last month two shocking incidents were reported in the car park. A woman was reportedly dragged by a car in a racially-aggravated attack and in another case, a man was beaten with a bat in the car park dubbed a 'crime-magnet.'.

Residents claim the trouble started when the former 24-hour superstore cut its opening hours, but kept the car park open.

Tesco have erected barriers to close off its sheltered parking area outside of opening hours in a desperate bid to stop the problems.

And newly-fitted CCTV could be seen in the ceilings and sharp metal security spikes lined the walls into the car park when we visited on Friday, February 7. But residents say that gangs were still taking advantage of the outer section of the car park, prompting urgent calls for the entire car park to be shut during closing hours.

"It starts after Tesco has closed up until about 4.30 in the morning," Earnest explains. "After they've closed, it's just open space. Kids are using it to do doughnuts, racing the cars, loud music.

"There's cars racing around, screeching around, they're laughing, joking, screaming. You see the women walking around first - it's as if they've been phoned up to meet up on the car park. Then the lads turn up in the cars.

"I see them [the prostitutes] doing things, but I won't go into gory details. You only have to imagine what kind of things I see. I want to leave, I've lived here for seven years, loved it, I get on with everybody, but that's spoiled it.

"I'm frightened to go out of an evening. I get youths walking past and stop to look in through the window. Before, they've thrown cans in through my open window and door. It's getting steadily worse. We never had the problems when Tesco was 24 hours."

Sitting inside with the curtains drawn in broad daylight, he reveals how he has tried to ask the youths to move on before, but was told they would 'cut his throat.'.

Asked if he's reported the problems to the police, he says: "Oh yeah. Forget it. They don't even want to talk about it. They say they'll send someone to have a look, but nobody ever comes."

The former Army man isn't the only one who's fed up of the spiralling antisocial behaviour plaguing the car park.

Michael Finch, who has lived nearby for nine years, said: "There's cars whizzing around, revving their engines. You do hear them going round. It's like a race track.

"There's no barriers on the car park to control the entry. I try not to take much notice, but I can hear them at night. We know there's a lot coming round with drugs. They're giving drugs out."

Worried locals have approached Councillor Majid Mahmood to take action for months.

He says the council pushed for the inner car park to be closed, but now he's calling on Tesco to step up security or close off the outer car park. "The problems have been plaguing the car park for over a year,"he said.

"We've had lots of reports of drug dealing taking place, anti-social behaviour taking place, things that shouldn't be happening.

"Now I'm asking Tesco, as a temporary trial basis, if they can get a gate installed to stop vehicles coming in when the store is closed.

"It's nothing against Tesco itself, but the car park seems to be a magnet for anti-social behaviour. "We would be asking police if they had more resources, but unfortunately they don't."

Tesco apologised for the anti-social behaviour and said it was working with West Midlands Police by installing CCTV and shutting off parts of the car park overnight.

A spokesperson for Tesco said: "We are aware of the incidents of antisocial behaviour in the car park and are sorry it's affecting the local community.

"We're working closely with the police and are taking steps to deter it, for example, installing CCTV and closing sections of the car park overnight."

We have asked West Midlands Police for a statement.

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| The scene after a woman was reportedly dragged by a car, and below, security at the Tesco superstore
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Author:STEPHANIE BALLOO News Reporter
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Feb 9, 2020
Words:854
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