Peckham murder 'Snitch' leaflet: what has changed?

A website linked to leaflets urging people not to talk to police in the aftermath of a killing has suddenly gone off-line.

As the fallout from a "don't snitch" leaflet campaign continues, the BBC investigates what the controversy says about relationships between police and the black community.

Image caption The flyers were linked to a website which told people not to trust the Metropolitan Police

On 29 December 17-year-old Sylvester Akapalara was shot in the head and neck in a Peckham stairwell.

He was the 19th and final teenager to die violently in London in 2010.

But if residents of the surrounding Pelican Estate were in shock after the latest violence - which left two others with stab-wounds - what was to come next caused even more controversy.

Because on 12 January up to 200 flyers were delivered to nearby residents.

Trident, which investigates gun crime in the black community, had been urging witnesses to come forward.

But the pamphlets carried a very different message. "No one likes a rat," they stated. "Remember the police are not your friend.

"Don't be deceived by promises of anonymity, protection and rewards.

"They will say and do anything to make you snitch, then destroy your life."

It concluded: "Be smart. Don't snitch."

The flyers were linked to a website, entitled 'Stop Snitching'.

It is unclear whether the site is linked to a campaign of the same name launched in 2004, in the troubled US city of Baltimore.

But on Tuesday the UK website vanished from the internet.

The Trident Independent Advisory Group reacted with jubilation to the news.

'Added to the fear'

Claudia Webbe, chairwoman of the public panel set up to scrutinise Trident's work, said: "I am delighted that whoever is behind this campaign seems to have come to their senses.

"People on the estate were very angry and defiant after the leaflets - but for some it added to the fear.

"It tapped into suspicions some have long believed."

Image caption Sylvester Akapalara was a talented athlete

One Southwark councillor has claimed that the leaflets actually had the effect of increasing the number of calls to police - something the Metropolitan Police is yet to comment on.

And Ms Webbe thinks the estate's reaction since the leafleting campaign is symptomatic of how relationships between police and the black community have improved.

She said: "In 1998 not a single person would have spoken to police after a murder like this.

"For the first time neighbours are realising they are not alone, they are not the only people being intimidated - and that reassures them about speaking to police."

The Trident unit, established in the mid-90s, maintains that it has overseen a change in attitude in the black community, with witnesses far more confident about speaking to police.

But Dr Coretta Phillips, a criminologist at the London School of Economics specialising in ethnicity, warned there were no hard statistics to support the claim.

She said: "I don't know of any empirical evidence which shows there has been an improvement.

"The evidence was not collated longer than a decade ago."

'No evidence'

Dr Phillips said anecdotal evidence suggested having a higher number of officers from a minority ethnic background may have encouraged more black people to come forward.

But she added: "Again, there is no empirical evidence to support that conclusion."

One of Britain's top police officers insisted the situation had improved dramatically.

Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin said people were now more willing to come forward with information.

Image caption One teenager was shot dead and two stabbed on the Pelican Estate

But he admitted the Met appeared powerless to bring charges against the pamphleteer.

Acting Commissioner Godwin said: "I think it would be quite difficult to identify criminal offences within it.

"There may be stuff we can do in civil law, but I think it's more about having a chat with them."

It is not the first time informants to police have been intimidated in London.

After the 2008 knife murder of teenager Ben Kinsella, his killer Michael Alleyne wrote a threatening letter to a witness.

Alleyne warned: "You all best hope I don't bust case [escape] because people will be in trouble and you will never snitch on anyone again, I promise you that.

"You see, snitches get touched [hurt]."

And in mid-2009, posters appeared across the borough of Islington with a man's face superimposed on the body of a rat.

The posters accused the man of being a "paid police informant" and the individual was subsequently attacked.

But both Ms Webbe and Dr Phillips said they had never heard of a 'snitch' warning as brazen as the leafleting campaign.

Meanwhile, Ms Webbe thinks the website's disappearance marks the end of the Stop Snitching campaign, in the UK at least.

She said: "I expect that it is all over, so we can focus on bringing men of violence to justice."

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