Is London Safe?


Last Sunday saw the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attack at Borough Market, and Londoners turned out in force to celebrate life. We don’t do candles and prayers, we raise glasses instead and have a party. We’re used to dealing with disasters, and handle them with grace and even humour (who can forget the shot of the man running across the bridge with his pint?

There’s a lot of rubbish talked about the perceived risk of being in London, notably from the arch-nonsense disseminator Trump, but how real are the dangers?

There were over 700,000 mobile phones snatched last year, so many that the Met no longer regard it as an actionable crime. Knife crime has gone through the roof but mainly in specific communities within the poorest boroughs of London (largely Somali). And it turns out that the reason for acid attacks among youths is to do with legislation; after a massive crackdown on knife crime with increased sentences, kids realised that acids and bleaches carry a GBH charge only, and it’s not illegal to carry them because they were never classed as weapons – that’s changing now.

The real problem lies in the massive reduction of police stations (around forty London stations in the last twelve months) and an over-reliance on technology that simply doesn’t work. Surveillance cameras are failing and facial recognition systems are over 90% inaccurate. Result? My crowded, chaotic neighbourhood, King’s Cross, once the home of hookers and crack dens, has junkies and dealers back on its backstreets.

As a middle-aged white guy I find London police very responsive and civilised, but that’s obviously not everyone’s experience. Extra PCs appeared after our complaints and they herded the addicts away, but they reappear the moment the coast is clear.

Friends from Australia visited this week and asked if it was safe to walk back to the station after dinner. I had to explain that of course it was safe, and that I have a 76 year-old friend who regularly walks or takes the night buses there. Crowded does not equate to dangerous – but crowded tubes at the level of Leicester Square on a Saturday night may shock out-of-towners not used to such delights. Actually what usually happens is that a party atmosphere prevails. Everyone is polite, and there’s a bit of singing/ mucking around.


The sad truth is that many tourists think London is unsafe. Visitors often believe the panic-mongering rubbish they read about evil muslims and murderous girl gangs. The majority of London wards have improved massively in the last few years. On Monday I went to fringe theatre in the Elephant & Castle, formerly an area so dangerous that shop assistants had to be walked home after dark, and found it full of pleasant, well-lit pedestrianised squares and soy-decaf-latte shops. Seemingly overnight it has been transformed from a derelict wasteland to a real neighbourhood.

Terrorism is of course something to be watchful about. I’ve now narrowly missed four such attacks, one in Barcelona, one in King’s Cross on 7/7 when there were three separate bombings in our neighbourhood, one in the nail-bombing of The Admiral Duncan (which I missed by a couple of minutes) and an IRA bombing in Kensington. My parents before me both narrowly missed bombings during the Blitz.

As in any major city, if you do something dumb you can expect to be taken advantage of. London reminds me of Berlin, where street drinking is normal, rough and posh rub along beside each other and a general air of communality is enjoyed. London is not only statistically safe, its people are far friendlier and more helpful than their fearsome reputation ever admits. I don’t think it’s very likely that you’ll be hanging around in a Whitechapel car park at two in the morning with a Somalian street gang, which exempts you from most areas of high risk.

However, since the Brexit negotiations tied up everyone in government things have slipped in terms of policing street crime. This year the stats have changed dramatically – and if they’re not quickly hammered down the streets may well become no-go zones once more.

13 comments on “Is London Safe?”

  1. Jo W says:

    The What? What? Chris are you ok or have you been a victim of the revenge of dealers/ gangs/ technology?

  2. Polly Dymock says:

    I come into London regularly and don’t feel afraid. Obviously, I take proper precautions- well, I look about me now and then, smile at people & walk a lot. I don’t go clubbing, get falling down drunk or take any illegal substances so I go about my business, enjoy my trips to the theatre, restaurants or museums and come home. I am a Londoner from many generations of Londoners so perhaps my instincts are inherently better honed but just being sensible is the answer. I too just missed the IRA bombs, had friends in the Admiral Duncan but refuse to be dictated to by nutters.

  3. Brooke says:

    In light of Mr. Trump’s proposed visit, perhaps you might re-think proclaiming how safe London is… think of how much money and aggravation citizens would save if he believed his own nonsense and cancelled his visit.

  4. Adam says:

    London feels a lot safer than a lot of provincial towns after dark. I grew up in Birmingham in the 80s, and never felt threatened there (scruffy as it may have been, but great people and places). I avoid my hometown of Bournemouth at the weekend (full of pissed up stags and hens looking for a fight) and much prefer the suburb of Southbourne with good pubs, interesting shops and friendlier people. Lots of seaside towns suffer the same anti-social behaviour as Bournemouth does, and the council can’t/don’t do much about it due to the revenue that the revellers bring in.

  5. Peter Tromans says:

    In the UK, the biggest risk of an unnatural death is from suicide. So you know who to be afraid of. And don’t think of a pre-emptive strike!

  6. Denise Treadwell says:

    Well Mr Trump has to open that ridiculous glass and metal building South of Thames , an eyesore I believe, and it even has a moat. Otherwise I doubt he’d bother to come to London!

  7. Ian Luck says:

    I had a good friend who lived, at various times, in Brixton and Stockwell. On one of his visits to Ipswich to see his mum, and have a ‘swift half’ (or several, with me), he said that he always felt safer walking alone, in South London, at night, than he did in a small town in Suffolk. I’m sure he was right.

  8. Wayne Mook says:

    I’ve always been fine in London, and Manchester is a lot safer than it used to be, but the loss of police is a worry. It’s allowing gangs back in and the freezing of benefits for 4 years is creating real poverty and that leads to crime.

    I remember a train between Liverpool and Manchester being delayed due to a bomb threat. This was in the days of British Rail so I received a free bag of crisps, I didn’t tell them I was actually late for the train and if not for the bomb threat I would have missed my train.

    I was on my way into Manchester when a helicopter went overhead started giving warnings about going into central Manchester, it was the day before father’s day so we (myself and my sisters) went to Salford instead and bought amongst other things a big hardback dictionary (which I now have), this was the day of the Manchester bomb went off, so luckily missed that, If I’d have not heeded the police warnings from the air things would have been very different. A friend in town was hurt with glass cuts on his back. There have been a few other terror incidents I’ve missed.

    Also at the height of ‘Gunchester’ I did have a gun pulled on me, luckily it wasn’t fired. I’ve been victim of several muggings, a number of street fights (in the worst fight I ended up with broken ribs and 18 stitches in my face, I was very gallant in protecting 2 female friends, the attackers were hurt as well but the most annoying thing was I had a bag with me and the bottle of beer was broken, they left the bottle of port but stole my book and I only had 20 pages to go. ) and I once suffered concussion after a racist attack. These were spread over about 20 years.

    Things are now a lot safer and I’ve not seen, let alone been involved in trouble or violence for many years.


  9. Helen Martin says:

    I always felt that a street with lots of people and lights was about as safe as things were likely to get. I had a young man accost two louts who were giving me lip and chase them off. Much likelier in a crowd. Have to admit that if the crowd on the street are drug dealers and users then all bets are off.
    Why is it Somalis so often? Will firms not hire them or rent accommodation to them?
    As for The Donald, he’s visiting us up here in Canada first. Comments have been made suggesting he may not get a warm welcome after his comments to our Prime Minister, the ineffable Mr. Trudeau. Justin commented to Trump that his security protecting tariffs shouldn’t be levied against Canada which is scarcely a security threat to the US. Trump’s response was, “Didn’t you people burn the White House?” Who’s going to explain to him that that was British troops in 1812?

  10. André Fomferek says:

    I visited London september last year by train, arriving at St. Pancras International and staying at a hotel in King´s Cross
    (incidentally, this was the vacation I discovered your wonderful Bryant&May Books – since then, I´ve devoured all of them) and while it didn´t feel “unsafe”, I was somewhat surprised about the amount of alcoholics, junkies and/or homeless persons sleeping on the sidewalks and in the entryways of buildings in such an central part of the city. But other than that, “party atmosphere” really is an apt description for the feeling the “touristy” parts of london conveyed. And another thing I noticed was that london seemed surprisingly clean (but then again, I was born in and live not too far from cologne, so just about every european city seems surprisingly clean to me by comparison)

  11. Jan says:

    Ian why did your buddy feel he felt safer walking along in Inner South London than in small town Suffolk. Why did he feel safer in one rather than the other?

    Not making any judgements just wondering why?

  12. Ian Luck says:

    He’d walked about in London with no hassle for years, and the first time he came back home, some drunk punched him ‘just because’. There seem to be an awful lot of nutters in my town, for some reason. I’ve walked around Leeds and Sheffield at night, and felt safer than walking about Ipswich at night.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    FYI It would appear that people are switching from opioids to marijuana so the levels of desperation in druggie atmospheres may reduce, especially as marijuana can be so very much cheaper than the heavier drugs. The deaths from overdose reduced considerably here in April and I would imagine are continuing to do so.

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