Two identical tower blocks in West London have been plagued by similar problems with non-residents reportedly finding their way in to take drugs, sleep in stairwells and intimidate people who live there.
Sutcliffe House and Harding House in Hillingdon are functionally indistinguishable from each other with everything from the checkerboard lino flooring to the blue paint scheme.
As well as distinctly similar architecture, the apartment blocks have both seen incidents of residents terrified of intruders using their homes for various illicit and explicit activities. Residents have reported break-ins, finding needles on stairways and human faeces in the bin area.
The battle to keep the trespassers out has caused some of the tower blocks’ vulnerable residents to say they are scared to leave their homes in the evening. Cases of ‘tail-gating’ people coming into the building have left residents on the defensive, with one even revealing that they carry an illegal Taser out of fear.
Hasan who lives in Harding House says he has been contacting the council for weeks trying to get the problem addressed. He explained how people access his building.
“What they do is they come in and they leave something in the door [so that other people can get it] and they will even sleep on the ground floor,” he said.
“Sometimes when you come home it’s like coming into an Amsterdam weed shop or something. If you are a young kid or an old person, it might be [stressful] to come home and find people smoking weed, it’s not just one person it’s normally five or six people.
“I’ve found needles, I’ve found Coca-Cola bottles they’ve used to p*** in. Sometimes in the morning when you are going to work you find in both elevators someone has p***ed in them or vomited in them.”
The resident said he thinks the issue is a council one, not a police one, and added: “I feel a bit sorry for them, they are probably homeless.”
However, there have been crimes committed in the area too. Hasan said he spoke to a neighbour who told him his car had been broken into, adding that due to the number of break-ins car insurance for everyone in the block had gone up.
Hasan said: “You can’t leave anything in the car or they will come here and break in.” Hasan says people trying to get in use the intercoms to try to trick people into letting them in.
He added: “They wait outside, sometimes they pretend to be delivery drivers. They call you and they say ‘oh can you open up I got something it’s for the neighbour’.”
Other residents reported accounts of non-residents looking for somewhere to sleep, take drugs or defecate in the housing blocks that lie to people and claim they are family members of people living there. Hasan said that the intercom at Harding House has been broken for weeks, which has stopped the cold calling but has made life much harder for residents.
He added: “We have missed two deliveries because we don’t know when it is here,” he said. The malfunctioning intercom is having an even more damaging impact on Tarun Ahluwalia, who currently requires regular lifts to the hospital.
He has been left partially blind due to symptoms received from kidney dialysis and medication to help with the procedure. He says that without the intercom he struggles to find out when his lift from an NHS minibus has arrived.
Tarun says he has been desperately trying to get it fixed but with no success. He said: “I have made a complaint about it but no one has done anything.”
When asked if he had ever had any problems with people coming into the block Tarun said: “One a guy, he was a bit violent with me but that was the first time in about three years.”
While residents at Harding House say people coming in uninvited tend to not be aggressive, the same can not be said for its sister estate Sutcliffe. Their vulnerable residents said they are ‘scared’.
One resident told LDRS that the council’s strategy, of telling residents to ensure they don’t let tailgaters into the block has not been effective. They said: “They try and get in behind you and when you pull the door shut, it’s just abuse. My neighbour, she pulled the door shut, they gained entry using the trade entrance and then threatened to beat her up. It’s terrible”
The resident says she has to kick people out or stop someone trying to enter Sutcliffe House at least once a week. She said that the caretaker found six people sleeping rough in the shed area a few days prior.
One resident who spoke told LDRS that they are so scared that they carry a Taser when they go out at night. They said: “I would rather spend a night in the cells for carrying an illegal weapon than be stabbed. I have been threatened twice with a knife for stopping these people coming in.”
Residents say that they have asked the council for a concierge who can keep an eye on the coming and going of people and ensure only those who live in the block or legitimate visitors can enter.
An elderly Sutcliffe House resident who lives on her own said she was scared to go out at night and is becoming increasingly isolated. Before she had been going out to clubs and evening meetings but now no longer felt safe to do so.
She said: “I won’t go out now, I won’t go to any meetings, because I’m frightened of coming back in and if I’m seeing my family and it’s lateish, even around 5pm, my son-in-law he always makes sure whoever brings me home comes up with me and makes sure I get in and lock my door.”
Having lived in the block for decades, the resident says she believes the reason the situation has got so bad is due to the regeneration project at the Red Brick Estate in Hayes down the road, somewhere she says is a notorious hangout for drug takers and a hive of anti-social behaviour.
“So where they used to go down there maybe they’ve had to find somewhere else and they’ve decided on here,” she said, referring to the fact that many of the houses on the Red Brick Estate have now been shuttered and closed off to the public.
Some residents LDRS spoke to said they felt the council could be doing more for the people (some of whom appear homeless) clearly with drug and alcohol problems. Others said they wanted more security measures to ensure their safety.
The council said it has a plan. A Hillingdon Council spokesperson said: “Both the council and the police are aware of the ongoing issues with drug-taking in the stairwells of these properties and have been working to address the problem.
“The council’s housing team has previously engaged with residents at the buildings to be wary of people ‘tail-gating’ them inside and to discourage residents from letting in people they don’t know. An officer from the council also makes regular visits to check the stairwells and other spaces – removing anyone who shouldn’t be there.
“The council’s CCTV doesn’t cover the stairwells, so we’re unable to act on drug use in those areas or identify anyone in these spaces. A 24/7 council concierge for the building had been mooted by residents and while this might help address the issue, it is not a sustainable solution.
“In the longer term, we’ll look to work more closely with the police on targeted work to break the cycle and will also explore how we can enable the individuals using these buildings to find support.”