How seaside town a stone’s throw from millionaires' row was turned into 'drugs capital of the South' | The Sun

A SHADOWY figure races across the high street to a gaunt-looking couple. Within seconds they’re passed a small bag and he darts away through the shoppers and families. 

It’s not an unusual sight in Boscombe, Dorset, which for years was known as the “drugs capital of the South” and ranked on the top 50 worst places to live in England.

While the former spa town has shaken off that unsavoury title this year, locals nonetheless paint a picture of rampant drug use, street drinking and vicious attacks.

It’s clearly a tale of two Boscombes, as just a stone’s throw away properties overlooking the picturesque beaches can sell for £1.5million.

In the first of our Broke Britain series, where we visit towns struggling to survive amid the cost of living crisis, Boscombe locals speak of violence on the streets and a "forgotten" high street on its knees after a number of shop closures.

When The Sun visited we saw rundown rows of pound shops and vacant businesses, many of which are plastered with flyers for events that have long passed.

“It’s getting more violent than it used to be,” says wheelchair user ‘Purple’, 44, who has seen Boscombe's decline over the last eight years. 


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“It’s not somewhere to go at night because there are a lot of homeless people and drug dealing is prevalent.

"Recently my friend was beaten senseless outside a pub. A girl asked him if he had a lighter and then a gang of thugs beat the c**p out of him, broke his jaw and ribs.

"When he tried to escape they were waiting for him and they attacked him again, he spent two days in hospital.”

Purple told us he “couldn’t wait to get the f*** out of here”, pointing to the worrying amount of broken glass on the high street where kids, elderly and disabled people travel. 

Seaside gem turned 'heroin capital'

Until the Seventies, Boscombe was a much-loved seaside town adored by sun worshippers across the nation.

But as more Brits started going abroad, the area declined, leading guest houses to be turned into Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs).

In 2006, a Bournemouth Borough Council report explained that an"increase in less affluent, vulnerable people" had seen drug use spike in the area.

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They claimed Boscombe became a "big importer of people with drug and alcohol problems" and addict numbers were "stimulated" when drug treatment centres opened in the Eighties.

By 2013, there were nearly 60 facilities available to addicts and authorities planned to "reduce the concentration of services".

Despite crackdowns on crime, Boscombe came under fire again in 2020, when Dorset – the county it resides within – was named the "heroin capital" of England and Wales.

It followed 232 seizures of heroin by police between 2018 and 2019 – which amounted to 300 seizures per million residents, the highest for any police force.

'I was beaten for begging & now can't work'

Now, locals are hoping for change after Bournemouth – the broader council area it falls into – received £23million as part of the Tory levelling-up scheme, the Town’s Fund.

Boscombe was listed as a “specific target”for the funds and “ambitious” plans aim to regenerate the high street and build more houses.

But some locals aren't holding their breath as there is a lot more to be done to "fix" Boscombe.

Portugal native Jose Ornelas, 39, used to be homeless until a Samaritan took him in last Christmas after nearly a decade on the streets.

“There was a lot of violence. People used to attack me for begging, it happened more than 10 times. I’m no saint but I never stole, I just wanted help,” Jose said.

The beatings left him with such severe anxiety and panic attacks that he’s now on medication full-time and his body shakes while talking to us.

“I started using drugs when I was eight and by 14 I had tried heroin to take away the pain from my life, thankfully now I’ve been clean for six months,” he added.

Millionaires' row nearby

While Jose has accommodation now, another obstacle is finding work – he “lost another job” yesterday and claimed he “couldn’t afford to live” off the salary.

Meanwhile, just seven miles away is Sandbanks, a favourite for celebrities and retired footballers.

On Panorama Road, one of the most affluent parts of the area, the 'average' mansion sells for £5.7million and sometimes more.

It's been dubbed "millionaires' playground" because of the sky-high in this elite community.

Among them was Harry Redknapp’s luxury home – which boasted a pool, sauna, gym and home cinema – and it sold for £10million last year.

Financial worries in Boscombe, though, are all too common with residents like Chris Worthington-Foxley, 34, who moved into shared accommodation to survive the cost of living crisis.

“The amount we are being charged is insane. You’re looking at up 60 per cent of your wage to cover bills,” says the part-time cleaner.

“If you’re on benefits you’re given £350 towards a room and you won’t find one for that or not one that you could live in any way. 

“Boscombe has a reputation of being a bit of a crack den and there are some colourful characters but you don’t see much trouble apart from people shouting and stumbling around.

“I’m planning to move to Spain because there are so few reasons to stay here anymore and it’s all to do with landlords and monopolies, it’s mental.”

'I'd starve if it wasn't for food banks'

Janine Banks fears she would starve if it wasn't for food banks after losing her job and becoming homeless last August. 

“During my last six months in a private flat, I was struggling financially and had to ask for help to pay my rent,” she explained.

“Then I lost my job and a gentleman offered me a lifeline by letting me move but he was emotionally abusive so I had to leave and now I’m homeless.”

I’ve hit rock bottom. I’d be living on one meal a day if it wasn’t for food banks and charities

Janine’s just returned from using one of the free showers near Boscombe beach and is planning where to get her next hot meal.

She said: “I’ve hit rock bottom. I’d be living on one meal a day if it wasn’t for food banks and charities. I would have to go hungry and stop eating otherwise.”

The 53-year-old sleeps in her tent on the hills that overlook Boscombe beach – but previously she slept underneath the pier and in shop doorways.

Janine said: “I’ve been attacked twice. Disgustingly, during one attack a group of retired people walked past and I heard one say ‘Leave her alone, she’s not worth it, she’s homeless.’

During one attack a group of retired people walked past and on said ‘Leave her alone, she’s not worth it, she’s homeless’

“Now I feel a lot safer, I’ve found a quiet place in the hills, no one knows I’m there and while I am getting robbed I can deal with it.”

She’s living on “a small amount” from Universal Credit and claims she’s been unable to access a refuge or council housing because of an eight-month waiting list.

'I quit a life of crime after pal's suicide'

Around 20,000 students enroll at the two universities in Boscombe's neighbouring town Bournemouth each year.

Locals want people “born and brought up” in the area to be helped on to the property ladder rather than landlords looking to extend their property portfolios.

It’s a thought echoed by many we spoke to, who believe talented locals that could make a difference are being forced out.

One such young resident is Marcus Goncalves, 22, who admits Boscombe is “a tough environment” but it’s also “full of diversity, culture and exciting people”.

“The people here are struggling because we’ve been forgotten about and live in an area that’s known for being a s***hole,” he said.

“It feels like there’s a war on the people here. We need help not incriminate. Boscombe's reputation means people avoid coming here.

“I’ve made many of my best friends here and have seen some of those best friends die here too because help is not there.”

Former shoplifter Marcus decided to turn his life around after a friend took his own life while secretly battling depression and drug addiction.

“He died because he didn't have the right people there to support him and because of prejudice against people from this area,” the McDonald’s worker said.

“People fear what they don't understand and are scared but most people are good and have got caught up in the wrong place.

“In the past, I never had money to buy clothes so I used to take what I wanted. I used to get into trouble but I don’t commit crime anymore.

“Fortunately, I’ve found a support worker who has guided me to the right place and I'm working on saving up money for a flat.”

'I was a homeless addict, we just want love'

Charity worker Paul Coombes agrees – he first became homeless at the age of 14and only moved to Boscombe in a bid to give up drugs. 

After a stint in rehab and joining the church, he managed to overcome his addiction and now uses his “pain to help others”.

“I remember taking doormats, piling them up around a toilet and sleeping there. There were other times when I nearly died,” Paul said.

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“Throughout my drug addiction, all I wanted was for someone to listen to me, to understand me, to love me and to believe in me.

“I believe that’s the way to help Boscombe too – if councillors listen to us and address the root causes of our problems we may have hope.”

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