British Telecom has suspended calls from all of its futuristic InLink phone kiosks in Tower Hamlets after it emerged that the service was being used to facilitate drug dealing.
The 16 5G-enabled phone kiosks, which have replaced traditional red phone boxes, give users 30-second free phone calls to mobile devices and supply public streets with free, high-speed Wi-Fi and touchscreen web services.
Since December 6, these free calls have been temporarily suspended by BT. This follows six months of pressure from local councillors and the Metropolitan Police to suspend the service after investigations showed that drug users and dealers were using free calls to coordinate deals and drug drops.
The council said that the borough’s CCTV unit had watched an InLink for a day and found that out of 80 calls made on its free telephone, 72 of them were to buy drugs.
According to E&T magazine, the decision comes after senior police officers and InLink managers were brought face to face at a meeting in October organised by Tower Hamlets Council.
The company eventually agreed to disable its kiosks as the Met increased police numbers in the area. At the same time, the council launched an initiative to deploy more drug outreach workers across the borough.
The police made their recommendations to InLink as part of their ongoing crackdown on drug crime, violence and anti-social behaviour in the Whitechapel area, where gangs use the kiosks to sell crack and heroin.
In August, 16 men from Tower Hamlets were jailed for more than 49 years for supplying class A drugs in the area.
Police and councils have halted InLink’s installation of a further 1000 kiosks in other towns and cities across the UK following Tower Hamlets’ example.
According to E&T, Bristol City Council barred 20 out of 25 InLink applications after local police objected, citing concerns raised in the east London borough.
A spokesperson for InLink said: “InLinks are designed to serve local communities by offering free Wi-Fi and connectivity to those who need it. Unfortunately, some users in limited locations abuse this type of service, and we’re committed to stopping that.”
She added: “In Tower Hamlets, we have been proactively working with both the local council and the Met Police to understand how we can alter the management of InLinks to assist in the work happening to combat ongoing social issues in the area.”
InLink said that they are committed to continuing efforts to better serve communities and will continue to monitor the impacts of these changes.
A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said: “Tower Hamlets Council and the police are working with InLink to tackle the crime and anti-social behaviour that is associated with the kiosks. We will monitor the effectiveness of this measure and this will inform our approach going forward.”
The Columbia tenants and residents’ association welcomed the decision to stop free calls from the kiosks and said it was “a positive step towards tackling the issue.”
In a statement on their website they also said: “It should be noted that this is only a trial by BT…[a] recent campaign to halt the plan to move the phone box from Hackney Road to Ravenscroft Street has so far been rejected. There is still much to do.”
A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: “Officers from the Central East Command Unit have been liaising with InLinkUK and Tower Hamlets Council on the issue of anti-social behaviour and crime in the area and offered advice. We will soon be writing to affected residents to keep them informed.”