Rampage of street thugs

By next month Suffolk is expected to have seen a 23 per cent year on rise in public disorder incidents, the latest police statistics reveal.The number of revellers pouring into Ipswich town centre every weekend is growing and looks set to continue.

By Tina Heath

By next month Suffolk is expected to have seen a 23 per cent year on rise in public disorder incidents, the latest police statistics reveal.

The number of revellers pouring into Ipswich town centre every weekend is growing and looks set to continue.

But is the town coping with the influx of late night visitors?

Last week a 39-year-old woman was left with facial injures and bruising when she was attacked at the rear of The Evening Star offices in Turret Lane after a night out with her boyfriend.

In another violent incident less than 24 hours later a woman was attacked in Tacket Street, shortly after last orders, only a few hundred yards away from where the first victim was assaulted.

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Street fight victim, David Cartwright, revealed in The Evening Star the appalling moments when he was beaten black and blue by a gang of thugs wielding a traffic barrier – but what can be done to stem the rising tide of after hours violence on our streets?

Night buses and improved street lighting schemes should help tackle the problem argues Ipswich Borough Council community

safety officer Jim Manning.

Nearly £400,000 will be spent over a three-year period on improving street lighting and CCTV coverage in the town and officers are currently canvassing public opinion as to where the new safety features should be targeted, he said.

"The problems (of late night violence), are symptomatic with the fact we are now a regional centre for the leisure industry. We have nightclubs, cinemas and restaurants that were not available in Ipswich ten years ago.

"About 8,000 to 10,000 people come into the town centre on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. It's a situation that just didn't happen in the past," he said.

"Many of them are coming to the pubs and clubs in the town centre. There is a risk that some people will be involved in violence. It's a small number when you consider the people who are in the town centre, but it is an issue we are trying to keep under control."

Launched last year, Nightsafe Ipswich is among the initiatives aimed at making Ipswich a safer venue.

From training door supervisors to the late night buses trial over the New Year period, Nightsafe is not just about making Ipswich a safe venue for clubbers but is also designed to open the town up to a broader range of visitors.

"The town is growing and will continue to grow. By using Nightsafe we are trying to ensure that a much wider group of people are encouraged to come back," he said.

"What we don't want to see is the town turning into a facility for just one group. We want to see a broad range of people encouraged back to use the cinemas, restaurants and theatres here, he added.

In the meantime those working in the nightlife industry insist they have tightened up on security and are working with the police and council in a bid to improve safety.

Clubwatch is a working party bringing together public entertainment licence holders, police and council representatives.

Chairman, director of Kartouche nightclub, Kerpal Bains said that improved relations with authorities were helping but there was a danger of pushing problems into other parts of town.

"There is more impulsive violence around town," he said highlighting the scenario of a young man walking home alone only to be picked on when he strayed beyond the steely gaze of CCTV cameras.

"Around the pubs, clubs and shopping centres you are more likely to be picked up by CCTV cameras, you are now more likely to be detained by door staff if you misbehave and you are more likely to be arrested by the police. It's safer for them to be bully boys away from controlled areas."

He believes that while the number of violent attacks may have risen, their severity has dropped – an opinion which seems to be borne out by the latest Suffolk Police crime figures.

Working partly on predictions, Suffolk police believe that the number of public disorder offences for the financial year 2001 to 2002 will rise from 14,613 last year to about 18,000.

However since 1999 civil disputes, from problems at sporting events to arguments with a next-door-neighbour are now recorded.

"These figures can include something as simple as neighbours having a row over a fence," said a Suffolk Police spokesman, Simon Stevens, while admitting that changes in recording practises would not account for the steep year on rise.

A high proportion of the public disorder offences, as reported in the Suffolk County Council community safety unit study, are related to non-criminal activity, he added. "But where alcohol is available the trend is reversed and more incidents are more likely to result in crime and arrests."

Steven Wells, managing director of Tower Security, which covers many popular night-spots in town, is better placed than most to talk about link between alcohol and violence.

"Alcohol mirrors the mood of the individual.

"If you get someone who is depressed it makes them more depressed. If you get someone who is happy it makes them over exuberant. The trouble is when the two clash."

He is convinced that making sure revellers can get home quickly at the end of a night out is a key issue to consider for town centre safety.

"The trouble in Cardinal Park is you have a continuous queue of people trying to get a taxi home.

"If you have had a disagreement in the club with someone and you meet them outside you are likely to have a go, especially if you are drunk and frustrated because you can't get home."

However, the Evening Star has revealed that taxi drivers are set to boycott Cardinal park because, they argue, it is too dangerous.

Clearly, the thorny issue of how to tackle after hours violence looks set rumble on.