NEWS
10/09/2018 20:47 BST | Updated 11/09/2018 13:24 BST

BT Digital Kiosks Expansion Halted After Claims They're 'Used Mainly For Drug Dealing'

The touchscreens offer users free calls, wi-fi and phone-charging facilities.

Google

Councils and police have reportedly halted the installation of BT digital kiosks after finding drug dealers were exploiting them to run their businesses.

E&T magazine reported that BT was seeking permits to install 100 ‘InLink’ phone kiosks, having already erected about 200 in 20 cities, following a pilot in Camden, north west London, in March last year, when police intervened. 

E&T, an engineering and technology trade magazine, said police stopped the London Borough of Tower Hamlets issuing BT permits to install more InLinks in July and has been in on-going talks with the company ever since.

The touchscreen kiosks are intended to replace 1,000 payphones and offer users free calls, wi-fi and phone-charging facilities, funded through advertising on built-in displays.

BT reportedly placed restrictions on free phone calls from machines where drug dealing was a concern after meetings with police and council planning officials this summer. The Times said on Monday that police had since objected to more InLink kiosks and had prevented the installation of a further eight machines.

BT is said to be appealing against the decision. 

A Tower Hamlets Council official told E&T magazine that 80 people used an InLink free telephone service in one day, 72 of them to buy drugs.

Further concerns were raised when InLinks were cited in a court judgment as an instrument through which a gang arranged deals to sell crack cocaine and heroin, E&T reported. 

The Times said the case involved a gang of drug dealers in Whitechapel who operated five dedicated sales lines for addicts, who often called from the kiosks.

The gang made £1.28 million worth of sales to callers from one kiosk, the newspaper said. 

In June, the Ham & High newspaper surveilled kiosks in Camden and wrote how they were helping to drive the local drug trade. The council told the newspaper it was set to speak to police and BT about the issue.  

The development comes after BT last month insisted that the most heavily-used payphone in Nottingham was being utilised by “tourists”, despite it not being near any notable attractions and claims by locals it is actually visited by “congregations of drug users”.

The booth in The Bridgeway Centre makes 3,000 calls a year, around eight times the national average. Chris Brummitt from the nearby Bridges Community Trust, told HuffPost UK: “It’s just known as the drug phone and it has been for the 10 years I’ve worked here.”

PC Kevin Hook, the Metropolitan police officer who filed the objection against further InLink machines, told E&T that BT’s response had not been sufficient. 

“We have been in discussion and negotiation with the applicant to try to alter the design and management of the devices to find an amicable solution for all. Unfortunately this has, to date, been unsuccessful,” he said.

In Bristol, planning officials blocked 20 InLink applications after police objected and cited the crime concerns in Tower Hamlets among other issues, the Times said. Other councils including Liverpool, Coventry and Kingston-upon-Thames were also said to have rejected kiosks, citing concerns about street clutter.

A BT spokeswoman told HuffPost UK that the company had not received a request from Tower Hamlets Council to block free calls to mobile phones from InLinks and that neither the council or police had provided any firm evidence of the units being used to conduct illegal activity.

She added: “Any claims about the InLinks and antisocial behaviour are isolated to a handful of units within the borough and we take such reports very seriously. Despite the lack of evidence, we’ve therefore taken the precautionary measure of temporarily restricting calls in the evening on some InLinks in the area.

“We are committed to an ongoing dialogue with the council, police and the wider community to ensure that the InLinks continue to bring a wide range of important benefits to the public.”