Tuesday, 26 May 2020
RESIDENTS have been urged to report instances of drug dealing, violence and antisocial behaviour at Henley skate park to the police.
Pc Barbara Taylor said members of the town’s neighbourhood policing team could only take action if they were told what was going on.
Despite neighbours’ claims that the site off Greys Road is a magnet for trouble, only 15 calls have been made to the police in the past year.
Pc Taylor said all reports were investigated and officers would search for suspects even if they had fled the scene.
She was speaking at a public meeting at Henley scout hut, which backs on to the skate park in Makins recreation ground, which was organised by town councillor Paula Isaac, vice-chairwoman of Gainsborough Residents’ Association.
About 25 people attended, including councillors and representatives of housing association Soha and the Nomad youth and community project.
Residents raised their concerns and suggested that potential solutions be put to the town council, which owns the land and supported the campaign to build the £290,000 skate park that opened two years ago. Most spoke anonymously for fear of repercussions.
They listed problems including cannabis smoking and dealing, littering, under-age drinking and bullying. There were also claims that young people inhaled nitrous oxide or “laughing gas” and took mephedrone, a banned stimulant.
One woman claimed some youths were so afraid of others that they were concealing knives in their socks.
A neighbour said: “I’ve complained to the teenagers and received the most horrendous abuse using language I cannot repeat. When they leave in the evenings, the sound of them riding their bikes or skateboards down the road is like a Hurricane jet.
“We need a holistic approach involving parents so that people can be proud to live here again. There’s a lot of negativity at the moment, which is a tragedy.”
Another said: “I’ve been warned not to go across the rec at night because it’s not safe due to drug taking. I don’t want to come across someone who’s high when I’m out on my own.”
A third said: “There has been an increase in verbal and physical assaults by gangs of children on individual ones and by young people to adults, including some with small children.
“It also seems to be a craze for kids to scream up and down the middle of the roads on bikes with their hands up. Someone is going to be killed.”
Another said her son, who has mental health problems, had been seriously assaulted and was being “groomed” to join a group of troublemakers.
She said: “I had to sort the children out myself. I know one of those who did it also has mental health problems, which I’m sympathetic towards but there’s so little support available.
“I don’t know where my son is half the time and am worried sick, although Nomad has been incredibly helpful and I think more groups like it are needed for young people.
“I can’t believe I live in one of the nicest areas of Oxfordshire yet I’m hearing talk of kids walking around with knives in their socks.” Town councillor Will Hamilton, who lives in Greys Road, said: “The skate park went there for a reason but I’m concerned about the drugs. I smell it regularly so I’m conscious of what residents go through.”
Pc Taylor said: “We know there’s a drug issue but it’s a minority of four or five local kids coming into that area. We get calls saying, for example, that there’s a boy of 15 or 16 in a black hoodie, which isn’t very useful but people are scared to say ‘we know it’s little Johnny’. If we can tell the parents they’re often mortified and will support us.
“If you know someone has got a knife, that needs to be reported. We aren’t psychic. We will act as quickly as possible but need you to work with us. On the whole, the skate park is great and 15 calls in a year is fewer than two per month. All bar two were looked into further.”
She said it was legal for residents to take photos of offenders, even children, in public places and these could help the police.
Councillor Isaac, who chaired the meeting, said she was shocked at the small number of reports to the police, adding: “People often report things to our association, knock on my door or complain online but it should be called in as police can’t respond to posts on social media.
“We’ve had reports of various incidents and people are understandably upset so we thought it was a good idea to unite the community and discuss some practical solutions.
“We know times are tough and lots of organisations have difficulties with budgets and resources so we need to approach this together. It’s a complex issue with no quick fix.”
Other people warned against overstating the problem. One parent said her son had stopped speaking due to severe anxiety but this improved when he started using the skate park. She said: “It has given me my son back. When I started bringing him, he found his confidence and passion again. There’s a lot of negativity around this place but for many it’s a sanctuary full of people they feel safe around.
“I’ve never encountered children being rude or threatening me or my son. Some smoke weed, which I don’t condone, but you’ve got to accept that lots of young people will do that and they don’t realise they shouldn’t.
“I’ll occasionally say, ‘Come on guys, don’t stand so close to us with that’ and haven’t had any problems. I’ve had nothing but joy from that place.”
Cllr Isaac said: “We should bear in mind that if it wasn’t happening at the skate park it could equally happen at the station or by the river. Wherever there are young people there are issues and we mustn’t demonise them because most love the skate park, are proud of it and look after it.
“Only a minority are doing things they shouldn’t and even then we should consider what they’re lacking or whether there’s anything more we should offer.”
Pc Taylor added: “They’re just young people trying to find their way in life and we don’t want to criminalise them but to help and guide them.”
Sue Prior, family support worker at Nomad, which conducts outreach work at the site, said: “Those issues happen elsewhere in Henley and many young people say they feel safer with an adult around so that could help if it’s done the right way.”
Cllr Isaac said: “We could look into a rota but we’d have to be sure to protect the young people. It can’t become a vigilante process but more adult support might help. Perhaps some professionals could give their time.”
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