‘Drunks, drug-dealers and pickpockets’ – French police crackdown at Paris Gare du Nord

Police in the capital are planning a massive operation to clean up Paris' chaotic and grotty Gare du Nord station - described by the local police commander as "full of drunks, crack dealers and pickpockets".

'Drunks, drug-dealers and pickpockets' - French police crackdown at Paris Gare du Nord

Gare du Nord serves not only as one of the major rail hubs for the capital, but also the arrival point for the Eurostar and shuttles from Paris’ two main airports – meaning that it is often the first part of the city that tourists see.

And it doesn’t give a good impression – the station is dark, confusingly laid out and its infrastructure is crumbling, so it’s far from uncommon to see buckets placed to catch water from the leaking rook.

But it’s the security aspect that worries the police – as the station has also become a hotspot for pickpockets, unlicensed taxi drivers, illegal street vendors and drug dealers, as well as a hangout for homeless people, many of whom have mental health problems.

Although the biggest security problem is undoubtedly pickpocketing – especially of confused, newly arrived tourists – there are occasionally more serious incidents, such as the attack on January 11th when a man randomly assaulted seven members of the public with a sharpened chisel.

A year previously, another knife-wielding man, later revealed to be homeless and with mental health problems who frequented the station, was shot by police.

Police presence in the station has now been massively stepped up, with dozens of officers patrolling at all hours of the day and night, in addition to the soldiers from Operation Sentinelle who make regular patrols of Gare du Nord (and other sites that have the potential to be terror attack targets).

The commander of the unit based at Gare du Nord told Le Parisien: “Unlicensed cigarette sellers, crack cocaine dealers, pickpocketing, drunk people – these are all problems that characterise Gare du Nord.

However, she added that things have improved in recent years, saying: “There is no longer a war between rival gangs, who used to come here regularly to fight in front of the [now-defunct] Foot Locker store. Many new stores have moved in. The light is soothing. It’s not an anxiety-provoking place at all.”

The station – through which 700,000 people pass every day – has long been a sore point for city authorities, who are well aware of the poor impression it gives to new arrivals.

However in 2021, an ambitious plan to completely redevelop it and add a huge new shopping mall was rejected. Instead, it was decided to simply give the existing station a revamp in time for the 2024 Olympics. 

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Long delays at UK port for travellers headed to France

Passengers going by coach from the UK to France on Saturday, the first day of the Easter holidays, experienced huge delays due to lengthy French border checks, Dover port authorities said.

Long delays at UK port for travellers headed to France

Long waits for travellers at the port at the start of school holidays have become more frequent since Brexit, which ended free movement from Britain to EU member states.

Rosie Pearson, who was heading to Val d’Isere in the French Alps on an overnight bus with her husband and two teenagers, said they had faced a 16-hour wait.

Pearson, 50, an environmental campaigner, described the situation at Dover as “carnage”.

They had been due to arrive at 2.15 pm on Saturday but they will now not make it until 6am on Sunday because of the Dover delays.

“The whole thing was a shambles… Not a single bit of communication,” she told the PA news agency. “The worst thing was that no one told us anything for the whole 16 hours, literally nothing.”

Ferry operator P&O on Saturday evening apologised for the delays. “Coaches at the cruise terminal are currently experiencing a wait time of up to 3.5 hours before they can proceed to the Port of Dover,” it said on Twitter.

“Once they are in the buffer zone at the entrance to the port the wait is approximately another 3-4 hours. We apologise for delays,” it said.

Ferry firm DFDS said earlier Saturday that waiting times for coaches to board ferries on Friday evening had been around seven hours.

Dover Port said coaches had been waiting “several hours but tourist cars are getting through OK”.

“The Port of Dover is deeply frustrated by last night’s and this morning’s situation,” a statement said, adding that freight traffic had not been unduly affected.

Last summer, the UK government blamed France for failing to adequately staff their border posts at the Dover port after two days of long delays for all travellers, allegations that Paris denied.

French lawmakers said checks now took longer because Britain has “third-country” status outside the EU, and urged that facilities be improved at Dover.