ON THE BEAT: By Inspector Jim Tyner
The area of Ayscoughfee Hall and Gardens, with the nearby church of St Mary and St Nicolas, is rightly referred to as Spalding’s ‘jewel in the crown’.
The area has previously suffered from intermittent spates of anti-social behaviour. However in recent months there was a substantial and sustained increase in anti-social behaviour and damage.
This had become an area where local youths liked to congregate, and there had been a sharp rise in ASB. It had also become a magnet for nocturnal street-drinkers.
It could be seen that the type of behaviour was increasing in its severity. This was causing significant concern for the local community.
Based on this, I applied for a Dispersal Order (DO) to tackle the issue.
The threshold for a Dispersal Order is very high, and has to be authorised by a superintendent after consultation with the council.
However, evidence showed that victims believed that the behaviour of the adult street drinkers and youths was having a detrimental effect upon their quality of life and business. To put it frankly, they had lost confidence in the ability of the police to tackle this issue.
So, after a lot of behind the scenes work and jumping through all sorts of bureaucratic hoops, I obtained a Dispersal Order. I do not see the DO as a solution to the problems, but I do see it as a breathing space for victims, allowing all agencies to work together for long-term solutions.
I hated seeing the DO notices going up on the gates of Ayscoughfee Gardens, but those that have been suffering ASB considered them a welcome sight. The notices had to go up seven days before the order took effect. I was dismayed when a window at the church hall,containing the notices, was smashed. Was this a challenge and threat of further trouble, or a last defiant two fingers at authority? Only time would tell.
On July 25 I introduced Operation Warrington to dedicate staff to this problem area:
* A minimum of two PCSOs on late shift have been dedicated to patrolling the dispersal zone every day. There have been a total of 302 patrol hours spent in the area up to August 10. This demonstrates my determination for the police to play their part.
* In addition, there have been reassurance day-time patrols and our emergency response teams have provided regular patrols from 10pm onwards.
* On the evening of July 25 (the first day of the Dispersal Order), a group of six youths were dispersed from the area.
* On July 30 a group of five youths were dispersed from the area.
Since the implementation of the Dispersal Order there have been only two incidents reported to police:
* On August 4 there was a report of men fighting near the play area in Ayscoughfee Gardens. Officers responded immediately and two well-known street drinkers were dispersed from the area. There were no formal complaints of assault and no witnesses prepared to give evidence of a public order offence.
* On August 5 there was a report of a group of youths on steps of St Nicolas Church Hall. Officers attended immediately and nine youths were dispersed from the steps of the Church Hall. Some were the same as those dealt with on July 25. One drunken teenager was taken home to his parents.
It’s only two weeks since Operation Warrington was implemented, but the feedback from those who had been suffering from the relentless ASB is really encouraging. Users of the church hall and staff at The Vista and Ayscoughfee have said that things have significantly improved.
The anti-social footballers and the after-dark drinkers haven’t been seen since the DO started. However, it was always important to me that the ASB didn’t simply displace elsewhere.
South Holland District Council has put in place a host of events with its Summer Fun brochure. There have been a wide range of different activities on offer for a range of age groups; those activities targeted at the teenage group have included football training, martial arts, table tennis and archery. In addition there has been a Go-Ride coaching event at The Castle Field last Saturday and volleyball last Monday.
While I am pleased with these early successes, I am not complacent. I think that some of the longer-term solutions are related to the old Bull and Monkie site. While the site remains in its current state, it is a magnet for trouble, so I was really pleased to read about the council’s intention to tackle grot-spots: they don’t come much grottier than this one.
Was I right to introduce a Dispersal Order? Those that have been suffering certainly think so. Have problems been displaced elsewhere? I am keeping a watchful eye on this, but so far the results are encouraging. Will I be introducing Dispersal Orders elsewhere? New legislation coming in from October will offer alternatives to Dispersal Orders so I am unlikely to apply for additional ones at this time.
The new law should make it easier for us to tackle ASB.
Remember what I said at the start: I don’t see the Dispersal Order as the solution, but it is providing a hiatus from ASB. I don’t think the police own all the solutions but we will continue to play our part and do what we can to support other agencies and improve the quality of life for those that live in, work in or use the area.