The Northern Quarter… hip, bohemian and plagued by heroin? Manchester hotspot blighted by drug addicts

Exclusive by Sophie Arnold

Heroin addicts and other hard drug users are becoming a blight on Manchester’s Northern Quarter according to residents and business owners in the bohemian hotspot – and many now fear for their safety.

Drug users can be seen loitering around back alleys, injecting themselves in broad daylight leaving behind syringes and other drug paraphernalia and stumbling around under the influence, numerous residents have told MM.

Apartment blocks have issued warnings to their residents to take extra caution on the street particularly at night and businesses are encountering addicts using their toilets to inject.

Nexus Art Cafe on Dale Street has been suffering from an epidemic of hard drug users occupying its toilets to conduct their illegal activities.

Manager David Lowther said: “We shouldn’t have to put up with this. It’s dangerous to the public.

“We have no way of knowing the mood some of these people are in. We’re lucky so far that they’re not violent.”

The problem started a couple of months ago and has escalated into an almost daily occurrence that shows no sign of easing.

He added: “The police have been no help whatsoever. On occasions in the past they’ve turned up after the event and had nothing to say of any use.

“They know who they are by name sometimes but a couple of smack heads in a toilet seems at the bottom of their to-do list.”

The unattended toilets are convenient for drug users as they are up at the entrance to the cafe and staff struggle to see people entering and leaving.

Mr Lowther added: “We just have a small handful of persistent streetwise users taking advantage of our location.

“I’ve faced up to potentially violent people like this before. It’s not nice and I dread to think if it happened to a customer who’d disturbed them.”

The lack of funding available to the not-for-profit community space makes tackling the issue difficult.

“The Northern Quarter’s always been a place where the more ‘colourful’ characters hang out in and its shabby chic can hide a lot dodgy stuff,” he said.

“Car parks are unattended and there are lots of alleyways to mess around in unnoticed. Scruffier people don’t look out of place and there’s not much police presence around here, not as much as, say, Deansgate.”

Resigned to the fact he can only throw the drug users out when alerted to their presence, Mr Lowther wishes more could be done.

He said: “It’s sad to watch them really. I wish I could do more than just shout them out of the place but what else can I do?”

Residents in the area have also noticed an increase in the number of people openly using intravenous drugs in the area.

One NQ resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, told MM: “It definitely makes you think twice about when you go out at night, especially as a girl.

“I regularly see people huddled in alleyways with syringes in their hands, and the fact it is broad daylight doesn’t seem to faze them.

“While a couple of years ago it was more common to see a few drunks about, it seems over the last few months there has been a real surge in smackheads lounging around in the back alleys, leaving behind dirty syringes and so on.

“This can be seen across Manchester’s city centre, but the Northern Quarter, which you would think is full of cultural types and young professionals enjoying the nice bars in the evening, is actually hiding many drug addicts down its back alleys and side streets and something must be done to get rid of them.”

Her building management recently sent all of its residents a letter, warning them of a spate of late night muggings around the block.

The letter reads: “We urge everyone to be vigilant when entering or exiting the building late at night.

“We do have CCTV but this only covers the internal foyer, not the external areas.”

The property manager for the apartment block, Geoffrey Smith of Matthews & Goodman, said: “It was just hearsay. The caretaker had heard something and as it was quite close to the entrance, we thought we should warn residents.

“We have no evidence of the circumstances and it is the first time I have heard of any problems although the Northern Quarter has got a reputation.”

An area at the back of the building was also flagged up as somewhere drug users regularly frequent for shelter and to abuse substances.

Mr Smith, however, dismissed this as typical of any back street in any city centre despite there having been several incidents here recently.

He said: “It is typical of anywhere dark and hidden away, whether it’s in Liverpool or Manchester.

“There have been one or two incidents at the back of the building but we do advise people not to access there on foot late at night.”

Another NQ resident, Joshua Tyrell*, who lives in The Met Apartments on Hilton Street, has front row seats from his balcony of a notorious drug dealing spot.

Joshua said: “My balcony overlooks the canal basin and the canal tunnel which runs under Dale Street.

“Every day you can see people hanging around the entrance to that tunnel, looking around to see if anyone is watching, nipping in for a few minutes and then out again.

“Occasionally I’ve seen people come out of the tunnel and start using right by the canal side.”

Joshua fears the longer the area goes unchecked, the worse it is going to get and the more likely it is that the crime level will rise.

He said: “I’ve never seen police checking out what happens under there, although I have seen paramedics going down when there is a casualty.

“GMP are pretty clued up on these things. I’d be surprised if they didn’t already know it was happening but it’s low priority.”

Joshua added: “On the whole, the [Northern Quarter] is getting better and better, but let’s not pretend that it isn’t a part of town that has always had an ‘edge’ to it.

“It’s just when you sit drinking a £4 coffee and see people shuffling off to score a bag from underneath where you’re sitting that you wonder which one’s going to have to give first.”

Chris Jones who works at the Superdry Office on Lever Street thinks the Northern Quarter transforms at night but has never felt personally threatened.

He said: “Here it’s a real contradiction because during the day it’s quite arty and creative but at night it’s drunks and drug users and a bit like crack alley.

“I think you become immune to it really. We’ve had an office here for 18 months and you really notice it at first but I think you don’t notice it anymore.”

Greater Manchester Police declined to comment.

*Name changed on request of the source.

Picture courtesy of ilcountz, with thanks.

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