Rise in antisocial behaviour ‘worrying’

LEAVING A MARK: St John’s Park is a popular hangout for groups of youths

A seeming rise in antisocial behaviour among groups of teenagers has left locals and businesses frustrated, concerned for their safety and property, and increasingly critical of law enforcement’s response to the problem.

The number of reports of antisocial behaviour across Tunbridge Wells has increased 3.4 per cent from last year, Kent Police have confirmed, but many residents believe the situation has escalated beyond antisocial behaviour, with incidents of criminal damage to private homes, smashed-up vehicles, and arson being reported.

One resident in St John’s told the Times how they have been terrorised by a group of teenagers over the last month, who have begun loitering outside their home and smoking drugs nearby. They also allegedly destroyed the resident’s outdoor furniture with a machete.

The resident, who didn’t want to give their name due to a fear of retaliation by the group, said: “These kids are really intimidating, and it’s very worrying. They seem to only come on certain days of the week, and sometimes I question whether I can leave my home on those days.

“I feel the police have done nothing about it, even though they are known to the police. I’ve been told that they are too busy to deal with it. It feels like they don’t care.”

Another resident, who also wished to remain anonymous, told the Times that they had been verbally abused by a group of young people, before seeing them shoplift from a local convenience store. The resident called the police.

They told the Times: “To this day no police have called me. I got a letter from (the police) saying the enquiry is closed. The police need to stop this before it gets really out of control. We need more police on the streets in Tunbridge Wells.”

In Southborough on April 29, during the Town Mayor’s quiz, a group of children entered the library and stole several books and then burned them outside.

Kent Libraries told the Times: “Four or five teenagers entered the library space for not much longer than one minute and took one book from the shelf. After about 20 minutes they returned to take more books. They took the books outside and tried setting them alight.”

When asked how the police handle young people causing criminal damage, Kent Police’s Insp Ian Jones, from the Community Safety Unit, Tunbridge Wells, told the Times: “We will deal with them criminally. Whether it’s the perpetrator, the parents, or the victim, we deal with everything based on the circumstances.

“We are not afraid to bring people to account for their actions in the court, including children, and we will continue to do [so] as long as children are not engaging with the services [available to them].”

According to crime statistics from Kent Police, there were 749 incidences of antisocial behaviour in Tunbridge Wells town last year (Apr 2022-Mar 2023), with 725 reports.

Culverden had the highest number of reports, with 184 incidences last year, followed by Sherwood with 125 reports. In March 2023 alone there were 52 reports of antisocial behaviour in the town.

Between April 2022 and March 2023, there were 502 reports of criminal damage and arson and 485 incidences of shoplifting.

Explaining how Kent Police are tackling the rise of antisocial behaviour, Insp Ian Jones told the Times: “In April and May, as the weather gets better and it is lighter, we see more children on the street, which is no different from any other years, but we have seen an increase in reports of antisocial behaviour and criminal damage involving children and young people.

“Our investigations have found certain individuals who we are now focused on and, once we have dealt with them, we will hopefully see others in these groups drift away.

“We work with youth engagement agencies to help divert these children away from these behaviours and get to the bottom of what is causing it.”

Terry Hughes, Community Safety Manager at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) told the Times: “As partner agencies, we meet with the police team twice a week to discuss incidences of antisocial behaviour and what we can do to assist the police.

“For those involved in anti-social behaviour, we talk to the parents and the children and might give them a warning letter.

“If the behaviour continues, we will issue an acceptable behaviour agreement which they and the parents sign and which is reviewed after three months. Importantly it is not an admission of guilt.

“The next step would be an ASBO (antisocial behaviour order) for criminal behaviour leading to an injunction but there is a very high threshold for this and would need a solid case.”

Roz Heaton, Business Crime Manager at TWBC also said: “We have seen an increase in groups intimidating and abusing business staff, mainly in retailers so anyone over 14 who is involved in this behaviour will be issued with a warning letter and if they continue, will be excluded from that premises.”

For residents who are worried about antisocial behaviour, Insp Ian Jones advised them to: “Keep reporting it to the police via our website, or call 101.”

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