Thursday, 22 April 2021

Village task force set up to tackle young hooligans

Village task force set up to tackle young hooligans

A WORKING party has been formed to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour in Woodcote.

The parish council is to brainstorm ideas with residents following a series of incidents involving groups of young people, including one on Halloween in which villager Tom Booker was threatened with being “cut” and had fireworks launched at his house.

Mr Booker, who runs  the Church Farm commercial estate, off Reading Road, and lives nearby, is among those who will take part in the initiative, which was agreed at a council meeting last week.

There are also concerns about vandalism, drug-dealing in secluded areas just outside the village and dangerous drivers showing off in the village hall car park.

On one recent occasion, two young people stopped their car and ordered a five-year-old girl to get in but sped off when they realised she was with her mother.

Solutions could include better lighting, security cameras and barriers at the village hall.

Mr Booker says these have worked at industrial estates which he has managed previously.

He and his colleagues could ask Thames Valley Police to patrol more frequently as they feel there has been less of a presence since Mark Bell, the village’s former Pcso, stepped down.

An older Woodcote couple recently reported a gang of youths misbehaving in an alley beside their bungalow but were told that officers couldn’t attend because it was “not a priority”.

The husband told councillors: “The whole village is getting to be a joke now, with no police presence. What are we supposed to do? We are getting scared to go out.”

The new group could also work with Langtree School and the independent Oratory School to educate young people.

Geoff Botting, vice-chairman of the council, said most teenagers were well-behaved but a small number of “bad apples” were spoiling their image.

Some villagers believe they know the identities of the worst offenders and have passed their names on to the police.

Councillor Botting said: “Teenagers will always gather and there’s nothing we can do about that — there’s not much entertainment in Woodcote, particularly in lockdown, and a certain level of nuisance is inevitable.

“However, there have been some particularly unfortunate incidents where people were threatened, which isn’t acceptable and we need to set clear boundaries or we’ll be seen to be accepting it.

“For our part, the council will look at its finances and see if there’s money for repairing the lights at the hall, trimming hedges to improve visibility and things like that.

“A common concern is that, quite frankly, we seem to be being ignored by the police.

“I understand that they’re under pressure and face enormous difficulty but sometimes it feels like villages such as ours have been abandoned.

“They can’t be everywhere all the time but I think some people are questioning why there isn’t a more visible presence and who would feel a lot safer if this improved.

“It’s a shame because this is generally a nice place to live and we don’t want to become a bunch of old farts moaning about young people.

“Most of them are brilliant and some things are just part of growing up but we can’t let the situation get out of hand.

“We’re very pleased to have Tom on board. It isn’t always easy getting the public involved because they have busy lives but he’s smart, enthusiastic and proactive and has a bit more expertise than the average parish councillor.

“Hopefully, if some people know we’re discussing the problem and looking to take action, they might think twice about what they do in future.”

Mr Booker was threatened after he asked a group of at least 15 youths to stop throwing fireworks on the village green.

He reported it to police, who attended but didn’t catch anyone.

The culprits came back to launch rockets at his house from the village hall roof and threw one at him while making further death threats when he stepped outside to note their car registration number.

Police have warned him it is unlikely that anyone will be prosecuted because of a lack of evidence, although they have agreed to listen to his partial audio recording of the incident.

Mr Booker said: “I’m very pleased that the parish council has taken this up and would like to thank them for their proactive approach.

“Hopefully, I can draw on my background to find some effective measures. Some people say CCTV won't make a difference if people just pull their hoods up but it still gives you a date and time of the offence and sometimes you can pick out identifying features.

“An automatic number plate recognition camera could also deter anyone who visits the village hall to get up to no good or take something that they shouldn’t.

“I appreciate that the police are under a lot of pressure but their response is frustrating when I have a registration number and even a bank card that I recovered from the scene the morning after I was threatened.

“Even if there isn’t enough evidence for a prosecution, you’d hope they could knock on a few doors and talk to people.”

A Thames Valley Police spokesman said the force would schedule additional “have your say” meetings in Woodcote.

He said the Henley neighbourhood policing team, comprising two constables and five Pcsos under Sgt Vicky Ball and Insp Nick Cain, patrolled an area covering 69 square miles and 22 parishes.

“All reports of antisocial behaviour are reviewed and followed up and we work closely with our partner agencies regarding such complaints,” said the spokesman.

“We’re aware of some incidents over Halloween and Bonfire Night. We will be investigating these and continue to work in partnership with Woodcote Parish Council.

“We always encourage members of the public to report any concerns and we will follow them up.”

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