By David White
IT is 8pm on Saturday and I’m walking along Duke Street with Inspector Mark Harling, the head of Henley police.
It’s the eve of the fifth and final day of the 175th Henley Royal Regatta and the busiest night of the year in the town.
I ask him how many people he expects to be in the town centre tonight. “It could be 3,000 to 4,000,” replies Insp Harling.
It’s no wonder there are about 40 officers on duty with extra manpower having been drafted in from Berkshire and other parts of Oxfordshire.
We stop in Market Place, where he explains the approach of Thames Valley Police to the event.
Insp Harling says: “We have got people who come to see the rowing during the day and others who come just to socialise in the evening and some people who are part of both groups.
“Those who come to Henley town during the evening could have come from absolutely anywhere and they have come for a night out. But Henley only has so many places for people to go and for them to socialise.
“When the licensed premises on the Berkshire bank close, people want to continue their night out in the town but sometimes there just isn’t anywhere for them to go.
“Sometimes people are disappointed, slightly frustrated, and in these circumstances the best thing to do is go home. We find ourselves managing people who are intoxicated and trying to manage their disappointment in not being able to continue their night out.”
It’s this sort of proactive policing that keeps the amount of crime and disorder during the five days of the regatta to a minimum.
Insp Harling, who is Henley born and bred, says: “Crime has continued to remain very, very low at Henley Royal Regatta and that’s a result of early engagement by officers with people, high visibility and making sure that we work with the licensees.
“The licensees are very diligent about how they run their premises and we support them in that because we want them to be running safe venues so people aren’t going to come to harm. People need to be responsible too so that they moderate their drinking and aren’t letting themselves down by getting drunk and potentially committing offences.
“What we’re trying to do is protect people, sometimes from themselves and sometimes because of someone else’s behaviour.
“We want people to come to Henley, have a good time and go home safely and if we can achieve that, it will have been a successful event.”
At that moment, the officer receives a call on his radio about a boat pulling up outside the Angel on the Bridge pub and its occupants asking people to buy them drinks.
As we set off to investigate, Insp Harling says: “In 26 years I’ve never dealt with a situation like this. You never know what’s going to come round the corner or downstream.”
As we walk along Hart Street, there is already a queue to get into the Catherine Wheel and it’s only 8.20pm.
Insp Harling is asked by a visitor what time the fireworks will start, so I ask him if he and his officers mind being treated like a mobile information service.
The answer is no. He says: “We put information together in advance on the sort of questions that people will ask — train times, bus times, fireworks going off, where they can get pizzas or kebabs...”
Approaching the Angel, we meet other officers and discover the boat has gone.
Pc Steven Finnis says the people on it were throwing items into the pub — it’s not clear what — and trying to get in.
Insp Harling talks to a doorman who says the boat owner became “slightly unpleasant” with staff before leaving.
Details of the incident will be passed on to the Environment Agency, which is responsible for the river.
Sgt Graham Pink tells me that in the past boat owners have been breathalysed by the police and just then a boat goes by with a well-dressed man standing on the bow with a drink in hand.
As we head back to the town centre, Insp Harling receives a message saying there are 2,300 revellers at Mahiki on the Berkshire bank.
This is not a problem, he says, adding: “The reason we want to know the numbers at the larger venues is so we can plan where we’re going to have resources because after midnight a percentage of those people are going to come over here and we need to make sure they do so safely.”
We are called to a report of someone jumping off Henley Bridge into the river. Nearing the Red Lion Hotel, we spot a trail of watery footprints and it’s not long before we find three men, one in just his boxer shorts, soaking wet.
One of the men has indeed jumped from the bridge, while the other two have swum across the river from the Berkshire side.
While officers issue the men with a section 27 order, meaning they cannot return to that area for 48 hours, one of them tries to pull his friend’s boxer shorts down.
As he does so, a woman in a white van drives past and says: “That is utterly disrespectful.” Insp Harling agrees, adding that it’s also dangerous and immature.
Immediately we are called to Marsh Meadows to a report of a fight in progress.
Apparently, a 15-year-old boy is unconscious and he has been put in the recovery position by police community support officers. There are said to be about 150 young people in the area.
By the time we arrive the boy has come around but is still lying on the ground as much a result of his alcohol consumption as the alleged assault.
Several officers who arrived before us are talking to a group of teenagers who have cool boxes with them.
“Alcohol has been confiscated and what wasn’t was probably got rid of before we arrived,” says Insp Harling.
“It would be interesting to know where these children obtained that alcohol — some of it will have been sourced at home.”
Two teenagers are arrested on suspicion of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
It’s another half an hour before we leave and the victim is still lying on the grass as police officers wait for an ambulance to arrive.
“We provide a rather expensive baby-sitting service,” observes Insp Harling.
It’s now 10pm and time for me to retire to my bed. However, the police will be on duty until the early hours, doubtless “baby-sitting” more drunks.
It’s credit to them that they are so good at their role and, as I discover the next day, the night passes off peacefully. Another royal regatta has been policed successfully.