Sleepless in Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 17:00 21 September 2001 | UPDATED: 10:33 03 March 2010

WHEN Suffolk Constabulary welcomed its new air-based recruit, the force expected it to be greeted with great support.

In fact, almost a year since its arrival, numerous residents have become annoyed and aggravated by its presence.

WHEN Suffolk Constabulary welcomed its new air-based recruit, the force expected it to be greeted with great support.

In fact, almost a year since its arrival, numerous residents have become annoyed and aggravated by its presence.

IT was meant to be a reassuring asset to the skyline above our community.

It was meant to ease our fears, to protect our security, and to comfort us as a modern and effective crime-fighting tool.

Instead, Suffolk Constabulary's latest recruit has seemingly initiated a barrage of criticism, anger and frustration.

The £2.2 million force helicopter first took to the skies back in October, intended as an important and up-to-date facility to help trace and capture criminals, find missing persons and to aid in certain police operations.

Indeed, it has supposedly played a successful part in a number of force procedures throughout the last 11 months.

Most recently, the hi-tech chopper has been shown in action as part of a peak-time television programme.

But even with such meaningful intentions, the newest county addition has not proved popular.

The noise, stature and activity of this skyline recruit has progressively angered many of Suffolk's peace-seeking residents.

This obvious frustration first became apparent at The Evening Star within weeks of the police launch. Letters, e-mails and calls then became a regular addition at the newsdesk, as the community sought to relieve their annoyance.

Today, the feelings are running as high as ever, so here, in recognition of this explosive public debate, we present two sides to the story:

ARTHUR Talbot is just one of the many angered home-owners who believe that the helicopter is 'unjustly' disturbing his sleep.

"It seems to me to be a very expensive toy," he said. "I can't see that what they are using it for is really justifying its existence."

Arthur, who is 79, lives in Bromeswell Road, Ipswich, with his wife Edith.

He claims that the helicopter often hovers low over his home late at night.

"There have been a number of occasions when I have been kept awake by it, and I'm not convinced that it really needs to be used as often as it is,"

He added: "The general feeling among the people I have spoken to is that it is nothing more than a police 'play thing', and that it is really rather unnecessary."

Both Arthur and Edith are retired through ill health, and he feels increasingly annoyed that they have to put up with the high activity of the Constabulary's skyline recruit.

"My wife is waiting for a hip operation and she doesn't sleep particularly well because of the pain as it is.

"I find it annoying when the helicopter means that we are disturbed further, and I would like to see some sort of statistics to justify its presence."

Recalling one recent and frustrating helicopter incident, Arthur added: "It began hovering really noisily over my house at about 1am and it was low in the sky still keeping us awake until about 1.40am.

"I called the noise protection people and didn't get much success, so I rang the police.

"They were very apologetic but just said it was necessary. Personally I can't think that there is a need for it so frequently."

The son of a former policeman, he commented: "I have no problem with things like the air ambulance, but I am sure this helicopter is being used – at a great deal of expense to the public – far more than it needs to be."

He remarked: "My father was a village bobby and I'm quite sure that he must have been just as successful going around the town on his bicycle.

"I can't think that the police need to go up in the skies as often as they do."

Suffolk Police vigorously defend the use of their air recruit.

"Since the helicopter went operational in October last year it has responded to 1075 calls, and during that period we have received a total of 23 complaints," commented Operations Manager, Superintendent Carl Puiy.

His responsibilities now include the force helicopter.

"We accept that the noise of the helicopter can on occasions cause some disturbance to members of the public," commented Supt Puiy.

"However, when we do receive a complaint it is thoroughly investigated and we always make personal contact with the individual to explain the circumstances for use of the helicopter.

"In the vast majority of cases the person complaining, has been more than satisfied with the explanation and has understood the need for the helicopter's presence."

He added: "The overwhelming majority of people we speak to support the activity of the helicopter and appreciate that it is an invaluable tool in the fight against crime.

"It has made a significant contribution to the policing of the county and been directly responsible for 100 arrests and the recovery of property valued at £121,56.

"It has also been deployed to evacuate critically injured child from the scene of a major road traffic accident at Lakenheath to Addenbrooks Hospital."

Supt Puiy insisted that the use of the helicopter is always entirely necessary.

He said: "The circumstances in which the helicopter is deployed is determined by nationally agreed guidelines.

"Members of the public can be assured that the helicopter would not be at a scene unless there was a genuine requirement for its presence."

Accepting that the noise of the craft can be annoying to residents, he added: "We do endeavor to keep disturbance to a minimum but a small degree of inconvenience is inevitable. The helicopter has already more than proved its worth for the people of Suffolk.

"The message is clear, the helicopter achieves results and enables us to make arrests and recover property which have not previously been possible."

What do you think?

Now it's time to have your say.

We would like to hear your views on the force helicopter too. Please write, phone or email us with your comments, or alternatively, use the Forum on the Evening Star website.

HERE are just a few of the scores of other comments made to The Evening Star about the force helicopter.

"I, for one, am glad that the police helicopter is about night and day. At least we can go to bed feeling that somebody is trying to prevent crime." – Mrs D Reeve, Hintlesham.

"I live near to where it (the force helicopter) is kept at Wattisham Airfield. I never hear it. Some people must moan. I say good luck to it." – Pam Smith, Ringshall.

"It's been a year now since Suffolk Police got their new helicopter, and I was wondering just how effective it has been. Especially considering the nuisance it causes because it so noisy. During the day isn't so bad but it seems to be about every night and into the small hours too. Luckily the weather is getting cooler so many of us will be shutting our windows at night, but with the recent hot spell and the racket from the helicopter it has been a nightmare." – Steve Banthorpe.

"I am totally fed up with the helicopter hovering around the Wherstead Road area every night. I have two toddlers who wake up crying when they hear it. They think it is going to get them. Surely we don't need this. Get rid." – Anon.


For more information about Suffolk Constabulary.

To find out more about noise pollution.

To enter your comments in our online forum, or to read what others have to say.

N The force helicopter features a high-power video camera and a thermal-imaging system. It can send live pictures directly to the Force Operations Room from the scene of a crime.

nThe aircraft has been used in searches, police chases, to trace burglars, and can even help in the case of medical emergencies.

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