Safety issues raise concern at High Brooms Station after alleged assault

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: High Brooms Station

An alleged sexual assault in High Brooms has highlighted the issues of safety that women experience while travelling home from the train station.

On Saturday September 16, a woman exiting High Brooms train station was approached by a stranger, who followed her on foot before sexually assaulting her inside a property.

Following an investigation by Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, the suspect, a 32-year-old man from Greater London was subsequently arrested.

Still, the assault has shaken the community – particularly as women of all ages alight that station every day. Councillor Jayne Sharratt (Labour), co-founder of Reclaim the Night Tunbridge Wells – a group campaigning for safer streets – said: “It is a basic human right to be able to walk safely home any time of day or night, and we are heartbroken and honestly incandescent with rage that this wasn’t the case on Saturday night.

“We don’t need more advice to women on how we can change our behaviour to keep ourselves safe, because crimes like this incident are committed by men, and it is men who need to change.

“We hope the police will engage meaningfully with the community about how we can all feel safer in public spaces, and [we] would be keen to work with them if they want to do this,” Sharratt said.

The assault has highlighted the lack of resources at the station to help keep women safe. A visit by the Times to the High Brooms Station revealed no taxi rank or waiting taxis. This is in stark contrast to the Tunbridge Wells Station, which is serviced by taxi ranks at both exits.

Taxi ranks are managed by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. The Council’s Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy states:

“The Council will periodically review the provision of hackney carriage stands within the Borough. If there is evidence of the need to amend the existing provisions, a full consultation would be undertaken prior to any amendments.”

Taxi service Walkers Cars has an office at High Brooms Station with bookable vehicles, but they rarely have waiting taxis available, says Southborough Town Councillor Alan Bullion.

In addition, the station exits cannot be presumed safe. Platform 2’s exit is via a poorly-lit path leading to Clifton Road, and the connecting underpass is not only inaccessible to many, with no ‘escape route’ if needed.

On average, the station, which has been unstaffed up until this week, sees 2,125 passengers entering or exiting each day.

At the time of going to press, one of the ticket machines was out of action, owing to vandalism. The ticket office had, however, been reopened.

As reported by the Times on June 7 2023, the station is on the list for accessibility works, so the underpass should be replaced by a lift and an overpass.

The British Transport Police (BTP), who are responsible for the station said: “BTP have had a focus on sexual offending for many years.

“There’s no place for it on the rail network, and stamping out this unacceptable behaviour is our priority.”

Anyone who experiences anything that makes them uncomfortable should text 61016, or call 999 in an emergency.

The timing of the alleged rape is particularly pertinent – just two days before Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark’s Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill became law.

Mr Clark said: “For too long, too many women and girls have felt unsafe when alone on our streets.

“They have become used to being followed and harassed in public places, causing them to behave differently to men – such as by avoiding walking alone after dark, taking different routes home,
or gripping keys in their hands for self-protection”.

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