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Friday, 23 April 2021
A GANG of youths threatened to “cut” a man when he asked them to stop launching fireworks at other people.
Tom Booker also had rockets launched at his house in retaliation for intervening.
He spotted the group on Woodcote village green as he was returning home at about 9.45pm on Halloween.
Up to 20 teenage boys and girls were gathered near the village hall and firing rockets at a low angle and even horizontally. Some of these were landing near another group of youngsters.
Mr Booker, who runs the Church Farm commercial estate opposite, was told they had been misbehaving since about 6pm.
He frequently challenges and reports antisocial behaviour on the green, so approached the gang and asked what they were doing.
He said some were willing to listen while others became aggressive.
Mr Booker said: “One of them approached me holding a firework in their hand and said, ‘What are you talking about, bruv? It’s Halloween, innit?’
“I don’t know why he thought that made it okay, or why there was any link between Halloween and fireworks, but I suppose that would have been lost on him.
“I asked why they were doing these things in the place where they live. One of them replied that I should move if I didn’t like it.
“Some of them were starting to apologise and when I explained that I had a two-year-old daughter who was trying to sleep, some of the girls were saying, ‘Come on, we need to stop this’.
“But I heard one of the others turn to their friend and say, ‘If this guy doesn’t f*** off now, I’m going to cut him’ so decided to leave immediately.
“You can’t reason with anyone who’s that angry and irrational and it’s difficult to argue when there’s loads of voices coming back at you.” He called the police and when officers arrived 10 minutes later the gang fled.
Mr Booker, whose family have lived in the area for three generations, went to bed but was woken up shortly before midnight by loud bangs.
He and his wife waited 20 minutes hoping the noise would stop before realising the youths were launching fireworks directly at their house. One rocket exploded so close to their home that it shook.
Mr Booker said: “I had to do something because it sounded like a bomb had gone off outside our window.
“It was a risk but we couldn’t just sit there worrying — they were getting closer and closer and I had visions of a firework flying into our bedroom.”
He went outside and saw youths were on the village hall roof so he went over to their car and recorded the registration number on a dictaphone.
As this point, one of youths leapt down and started hurling abuse at him.
Mr Booker said: “He took extreme offence at me recording the number and asked, ‘What the f*** are you doing?’
“I stayed very calm, denied doing anything and slowly walked back to the house. The guy on the roof then shouted to his mate to stand clear and threw a firework right at me.
“It didn’t land near me because they’re not very accurate — they swirl all over the place rather than going in a straight line but the explosion could still cause a serious injury if you were unlucky.
“As I carried on walking away, he shouted, ‘Yeah, you’d better f*** off or I’ll f*****g kill you’.
“It’s sad because he can’t have been older than 20 but he was so angry that it really sounded like he wanted to kill me.
“You wonder how these people grew up or whether anyone taught them discipline, not that a bad upbringing is an excuse. They still need to face repercussions and learn that actions have consequences.
“They seemed to be a law unto themselves and it was a very scary experience.”
The next day, Mr Booker noticed a large amount of debris in the car park, including spent fireworks, broken glass and empty containers of nitrous oxide, which is often used illegally as a “high”.
He posted about his experience on Facebook page and received dozens of replies condemning the gang and commending him.
Mr Booker said: “I don’t often post but I shared it to remind people that they should report these things. There’s no point just moaning online and leaving it at that.
“People say, ‘Leave the kids alone, it’s really tough at the moment’ but I don’t think it’s excusable because I was threatened with being stabbed, albeit indirectly.
“I was young once and might have been in the vicinity of, say, some eggs being thrown, but this is a very different kettle of fish.”
He plans to ask the parish council, which owns and manages both the green and hall, to consider installing CCTV, security gates and one-way ramps to prevent similar incidents.
Mr Booker, who has previously managed industrial estates in Reading, says such measures are effective.
He said: “I often see young people doing ‘doughnut’ manoeuvres, sometimes until the car park is covered in smoke from their tyres. It’s only a matter of time before something serious happens.
“They think they can get away with it because it’s ‘in the middle of nowhere’ but it’s not. I often go out and ask groups to be more sensible and they’re often okay with it.
“I appreciate that we can’t expect the police to be available 24 hours a day, nor is it the parish council’s job to enforce the law, but there are some security measures which could make a huge difference.”
Malcolm Smith, vice-chairman of the parish council, said: “We’ve had discussions about CCTV cameras before and concluded it wasn’t worth it because of data protection issues and the fact that people can put their hoods up to avoid being identified.
“However, some new councillors have joined since this last came up and perhaps we might have some ideas that could be effective.”
Thames Valley Police confirmed they were investigating.
Eggs were also thrown at a number of houses in Woodcote on Saturday while several pumpkin displays were stamped on. These incidents were reported to the police.
09 November 2020
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