Times of Tunbridge Wells October 25 2023

Page 18



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Wednesday October 25 | 2023

Greg Clark was first elected MP for Tunbridge Wells in 2005. He has held a number of positions in Government, including Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. He is currently Chairman of the Commons’ Science and Technology Committee

Greg Clark Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells

Enough is enough: action on anti social behaviour ON 12 September I deployed the ‘Community Trigger’ under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2014 to halt the wave of disorder that has plagued Tunbridge Wells, Southborough and Paddock Wood this year. I took this action because residents, shopkeepers, head teachers, parents and young people have had enough of the wave of intimidation, criminal damage, theft, robbery and violence that has been surging. Everyone says: enough is enough. The power that I exercised required Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, the Police and other agencies including the Youth Justice Team, Social Services and the CCTV operator to come together to review what has been happening and to formulate a plan to stop it. Last Friday a meeting of all these organisations took place to do this. I was pleased that progress is being made. The first important breakthrough is an acceptance by all these authorities that there has indeed been an exceptional wave of disorder. It has been perpetrated by a group of, sadly, quite young people – mostly 12- to 16-year-olds rather than late teen and young adult offenders. The group includes many girls, whose violence has matched that of boys. The disorder has often been during daylight hours, rather than mostly at night time. Although there are small core groups of offenders, they have attracted what

one agency described as a “pack mentality”. CCTV has captured 324 incidents over the past 6 months. One young person alone had been identified in 17 separate offences. It is important to say that the people involved are a small number relative to the vast majority of young people of that age in our area, whose behaviour is more associated with kindness and courteousness. Indeed, many of the victims of these groups of youths have been young people of their own age. They need our protection from violence and intimidation.

Safe The second important outcome of this summit was a determination to turn the situation round. All the authorities there committed to work together to grip the problem and to stop its recurrence. There are some specific changes that I and others put forward. On policing, our local police officers have a deep knowledge of our community and a commitment to keep it safe. It is good that the number of beat officers in Tunbridge Wells will double from 6 to 12 over the next year. But I and others were concerned that the new ward model did away with the Town Centre policing team earlier this year. There is something particular about town centres – they tend to be the highest

crime areas with shops and bars, and a concentration of people day and night. I think there is a strong case for a police presence specialised in the needs of the town centre – broadly defined in our linear town. The Borough Council has a legal duty to work to prevent crime and disorder. The council has some excellent and effective officers who do good work in this area. But it is not one of the Borough Council’s chosen strategic priorities,

and I think it should be. And that needs further action too. For example, the council’s street scene officers have powers to issue fixed penalty notices for anti-social behaviour. But the Council has chosen to restrict them to adults, making them impotent with this problem. Other councils issue them to youths, with the parents liable to pay. That may concentrate the minds of some parents as to the consequences of their children’s actions on others. And the use of Council enforcement officers – with body worn cameras for evidence – would significantly enhance the patrols the Police can mount. Some of the perpetrators of these crimes have troubled – and sometimes tragic – home lives. That requires a humane approach. No-one wants a young person to be criminalised when they need help. But it doesn’t help any offender to think they can act with impunity – it draws them into worse crime and attracts followers who fall into bad ways. There is a wide range of interventions and sanctions available to ensure that every such act leads to action. I am encouraged by this initial response to my use of the Community Trigger. I agreed to meet again in a few weeks’ time with the agencies who are working together to discuss an agreed action plan and to examine what progress has been made. I am determined to do everything possible to return civility to our streets.

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