Our beautiful harbour town has become a drug-fuelled no-go zone after 6pm – if it goes on here, it could happen anywhere | The Sun

FED-UP locals in a picturesque harbour town say local police are 'a myth in the sticks' and growing crime has left them ‘scared’ to go out at night.

Residents in the historic town of Bideford in North Devon say they have ‘given up’ contacting local police because their phone calls to the 101 non-emergency number have gone unanswered.

At first glance the small town looks picture-perfect, with the River Torridge running through it, historical buildings, cobbled streets and lush green parks, as well as a Victorian ‘Pannier’ market.

But delve a little deeper, and Bideford’s low crime statistics don’t reflect the experiences of frustrated locals.

Daily crime problems including fighting in the street, drug use, drug paraphernalia left on the street and in public toilets, as well as anti-social behaviour and shoplifting.

The problem is so serious that Torridge Town Council’s licensing committee met last month to discuss the issues after they were raised by taxi drivers.



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One local, Tracy Rimington, 47, said: “There’s a problem with drunks and people on drugs hanging about in Bideford, even in the daytimes, but the police don’t really do much about it. I feel quite threatened by it sometimes.

“I wouldn’t go out in an evening because I’m scared. There’s also gangs of young people hanging around because there’s nothing for them to do here, and there's a lot of shoplifting. I’ve got older kids myself, but I know where they are in an evening.

“I’ve lived here most of my life, but I didn’t notice much drug use or alcoholism compared to now.

“This is a beautiful area, the parks and river are beautiful, but the police don’t do enough to tackle the problems we have. They must know what’s going on, especially in Jubilee Square, because there are CCTV cameras.

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“I think Bideford could attract more tourists if only the problems were sorted out.”

Drug use rife

County lines – where drug dealers from big cities use young runners to transport drugs to rural areas – has been on the rise in Devon and Cornwall and a recent police crackdown led to 43 arrests in March.

Earlier this month, Devon and Cornwall police made a renewed push with Operation Scorpion, urging locals to come forward and report any drug-related activity as part of a regional campaign to disrupt county lines gangs.

Local pub landlady Shirley Seatherton, 65, said: “I’ve seen people drinking on the quay at 8am in the morning, groups of four of five usually, sitting on the benches.

“There is a lot of a drug use in the town, I don’t tolerate it in the pub obviously but on the quay it happens. They’re effing and blinding, it mostly happens on Saturdays, and they’re fighting and being abusive. It’s diabolical.”

Anti-social hotspot

Jubilee Square, a small square with wooden benches and a central tree, is a few hundred yards from the town council offices and across the road from the quay, where the public toilets are.

Next to the main road through the town and surrounded by shops and offices, the small area is a magnet for street drinkers and drug addicts with nowhere to go.

Dierdre Connis, 73, works for Torridge Volunteer Cars, in an office overlooking the square. 

She said: “At times Jubilee Square is peaceful, except when groups of mostly men, but sometimes women as well, congregate there. 

“They can be quite loud and looking down from above I get the impression they’re either drunk or on some medication of some kind. I’ve seen them hurling abuse at each other as well.

“I’m not bothered too much by these people hanging around in the square, because I think I’m particularly hard-nosed, but there is a lady I worked with who did feel frightened going to and coming from the office. She felt intimidated.”

Another anonymous local added: "The rise in drink and drugs has been very noticeable in the last couple of years – if it can happen here, it feels like it could happen anywhere."

Fights and petty crime

Some local business owners declined to be named for fear of reprisals. One told us she’d witnessed a brawl in the square, while another said: “It’s a constant struggle in this area, I watch fights and anti-social behaviour on a daily basis, but I have a business to run and don’t want to get my windows smashed.”

The toilets are now closed after 6pm to try to deter people from using them to take drugs after local taxi drivers at the nearby rank raised the issue of anti-social behaviour with the council.

Leo Maunder, 34, has worked as a taxi driver in Bideford since 2009.

“Bideford definitely has a problem with drunks and drug users. In the summer they congregate around the centre of town, but in the winter, they move to the toilets where there’s a shelter. There’s usually a lot of shouting and fighting among them.

“In the last ten years I’ve seen it get worse. There’s a lot of petty crime and shoplifting in the area too because there’s nothing for young people to do.

“The police try to do their best and move them on, but there’s nothing they can do to stop them coming back. They just don’t have enough power to solve the problem.”

Cllr Stephen Harding told last month's committee meeting how his daughter’s car had been broken into, but she gave up reporting it as the 101 number ‘rang and rang’ and there was no one at the police station.

He said: “PCSOs (police community support officers) are a myth in the sticks, they do not come to our meetings, I’m not happy with the police, they are not worth the money.”

And Cllr Philip Pennington said he had not been into Bideford at night for eight years because of fights in the street.

“The last time I came in was for my wife’s 60th birthday and there were fights all the way down Cooper Street. The night-time economy needs to be addressed because I am not coming here with the amount of anti-social behaviour [ASB] that goes on. 

“We need to ask the police and the partnership what is happening with Bideford as it is not somewhere you want to go after 6pm.”

The committee heard how Bideford lost out on Safer Streets funding for extra police patrols because its crime statistics were not high enough. 

But nearby Barnstaple did secure funding and has since seen similar problems with anti-social behaviour decrease by 30 per cent.

Police Superintendent Toby Davies, local commander for North and West Devon, will discuss issues of concern with councillors at a community safety partnership meeting on November 9.

Chief Inspector of Local Policing Graham Thomas told The Sun: “Tackling anti-social behaviour [ASB] is an important task in maintaining overall community safety and well-being and we recognise that policing has a role to play in this, especially when criminal activity has occurred.

“Although overall crime is down in Bideford, we are not complacent and we are aware that in some areas, such as Jubilee Square, there are issues with drugs and alcohol and the associated disorder and ASB that arises from substance abuse.

"This has a direct influence and contribution on ASB, and whilst we have arrested and prosecuted persistent offenders we also work in tandem with organisations such as outreach services and community support groups to tackle the underlying causes of this unacceptable behaviour.  

“Councils also have a key role to play in helping make local areas safe places to live and Torridge District Council have imposed a Public Spaces Protection Order [PSPO] in Bideford, which includes Jubilee Square.

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"My local policing team frequently patrol the area in line with their targeted patrol plans and we are also exploring opportunities with Torridge District Council to create a community policing hub in Jubilee Square.

“We would always encourage the public to report matters to the police, which directly influences our patrol plans. People having issues with the 101 service are asked to report non-emergency incidents to police through our website at devon-cornwall.police.uk

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