Crim­i­nal dere­lic­tion of duty

When the sea­side town of Cromer was over­run by vi­o­lent gangs of trav­ellers, the po­lice did NOTH­ING. Was it fear? Po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness? ROBERT HARD­MAN in­ves­ti­gates a...

Daily Mail - - News - By Robert Hard­man

Car­ni­val week was draw­ing to a tri­umphal close and the nor­folk sea­side town of Cromer was in buoy­ant mood. This year’s pa­rade had been a great suc­cess with more than 60 floats and a crowd of 20,000 — three times the town’s pop­u­la­tion.

The red ar­rows had done their stuff and lo­cal busi­nesses were now an­tic­i­pat­ing their busiest week­end of the year. Or so they thought. amid all the ex­cite­ment, no one paid much at­ten­tion to the first batch of cam­per vans that started rolling in to the run­ton road car park on that sunny af­ter­noon four weeks ago. But by early evening, 22 mo­torhomes and sev­eral car­a­vans be­long­ing to an ex­tended fam­ily of around 100 ir­ish trav­ellers, had ar­rived.

Shortly af­ter­wards, this grand old re­sort, where Ed­ward vii played golf, was en­dur­ing its worst week­end in liv­ing mem­ory, with dozens of crimes, in­clud­ing an al­leged rape, and thou­sands of pounds in lost tak­ings. These new ar­rivals had not come for the car­ni­val or the seafood — Cromer is renowned for its crab — or for the fa­mous end- of-the-pier variety show. They were in search of al­co­hol and food, prefer­ably with­out pay­ing for it.

and once it was clear the po­lice were not ap­ply­ing the same rules which rou­tinely ap­ply to the res­i­dents, the vis­i­tors ran riot.

as re­ports of threat­en­ing be­hav­iour, scuf­fles and un­paid bills quickly spread, one bar af­ter an­other re­luc­tantly de­cided to shut. in one in­ci­dent, be­tween 30 and 40 men pil­laged the drinks cabi­net of an in­dian restau­rant, in­jur­ing the owner’s wife, as po­lice of­fi­cers sat in three cars across the road do­ing noth­ing.

a petrol sta­tion was forced to close af­ter be­ing ran­sacked in broad day­light for the fourth time in one day — by feral chil­dren.

Ter­ri­fied lo­cals took to so­cial me­dia with re­ports of Cromer be­ing in ‘lock­down’, a phrase usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with ter­ror at­tacks rather than yob­bish be­hav­iour. no one in Cromer could re­call any­thing like it. Yet, by the end of a whole week­end of law­less­ness, the num­ber of ar­rests had reached the grand to­tal of none.

What en­raged lo­cals even more than the lack of po­lice ac­tiv­ity, how­ever, was the way in which their com­plaints were dis­missed.

With an ar­ro­gance bor­der­ing on dere­lic­tion of duty, nor­folk’s Deputy Chief Con­sta­ble, nick Dean, told res­i­dents that this had been noth­ing more than an ‘iso­lated in­ci­dent’.

What’s more, the lo­cals were told they were be­ing ‘to­tally dis­pro­por­tion­ate’ in pin­ning the blame on the trav­ellers. as for the al­leged rape, po­lice in­sisted there was no con­nec­tion. De­spite be­ing forced to wit­ness vi­o­lent threats, loot­ing and day­light rob­bery, the peo­ple of Cromer were ef­fec­tively be­ing told: ‘Move along, now. noth­ing to see here.’

as the lo­cal lib Dem MP, nor­man lamb, who was in Cromer that week­end, puts it: ‘The po­lice mes­sages were not just wrong. They were al­most de­signed to wind peo­ple up.’

Yet the po­lice had one huge prob­lem. as they were later forced to ad­mit, nearly all the in­ci­dents re­ported in the course of that mis­er­able week­end — one al­leged rape, three pub­lic or­der of­fences, three com­mon as­saults, one dam­aged ve­hi­cle and the theft of nu­mer­ous items in­clud­ing al­co­hol, ice creams, phone charg­ers, hats, sun­glasses and even buck­ets and spades — turned out to be true.

On top of that were all the in­ci­dents which had not been for­mally re­ported and a small for­tune in lost busi­ness.

and so it was, a few days ago, that nor­folk’s Chief Con­sta­ble, Si­mon Bai­ley, ar­rived in Cromer on bended knee. He had a con­fes­sion.

The yob­bery and thiev­ing had not been an ‘iso­lated in­ci­dent’, af­ter all. it had been a gen­uine crime wave and the po­lice, as Mr Bai­ley ad­mit­ted, had failed. ‘i’m sorry for the way that you rightly feel let down,’ he told a heated pub­lic meet­ing.

‘There’s no doubt, know­ing what i know now, that we did not get the polic­ing right that week­end. That was a bloody hor­ri­ble week­end. i can­not re­call a week­end like that in the past decade.’

asked about the dam­age to lo­cal busi­nesses, he even ad­vised traders to pur­sue a civil claim.

as for the rape, hav­ing orig­i­nally de­nied any link with the trav­ellers, the po­lice had re­vised their po­si­tion.

‘While at the time we didn’t con­nect [it] to the group, we are now ab­so­lutely con­nect­ing,’ said Mr Bai­ley. Three men have now been ar­rested in con­nec­tion with the at­tack.

TWO words, how­ever, were miss­ing from the Chief Con­sta­ble’s mea culpa: po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. Why else were the po­lice so will­ing to mis­lead the pub­lic about the ex­tent of the trou­ble and about the iden­tity of those re­spon­si­ble?

Had Cromer been over­run by a gang of foot­ball hooli­gans, would the po­lice have brushed it off as a mi­nor mat­ter un­con­nected to foot­ball?

Cromer knows the an­swer to that one. While res­i­dents have broadly wel­comed the po­lice chief’s apol­ogy, there re­mains anger and as­ton­ish­ment that this could have hap­pened in the first place.

Much of north nor­folk de­pends on tourism (worth £490 mil­lion a year) and Cromer is the big­gest sea­side re­sort in the district. This ex­plains why many traders would pre­fer to ex­punge this whole sorry story from the news — and why they won’t talk to me. They don’t want this place por­trayed as ‘rough’.

Oth­ers, how­ever, are keen to blow Cromer’s trum­pet. District coun­cil­lor Hi­lary Cox as­sures me that this was a freak episode. i need no per­suad­ing. Hav­ing stayed on this stretch of coast ear­lier in the sum­mer, i can vouch for its stir­ring clifftop walks, for the qual­ity of its seafood, for its old world charm. rough it is not.

The res­i­dents are also an­gry at me­dia sug­ges­tions that Cromer is hos­tile to trav­ellers. They point to a re­port in the Guardian news­pa­per which naively sug­gested that the trav­ellers were peace­ful pil­grims mak­ing an an­nual trip to the nearby Shrine Of Our lady at Wals­ing­ham.

‘We have al­ways had trav­ellers here and they are very wel­come,’ says the Mayor of Cromer, John Fros­dick. ‘But none be­haved like this lot.’

WALS­ING­HAM had been cel­e­brat­ing the Feast Of The as­sump­tion on au­gust 15, an event at­tended by many trav­ellers each year. This sum­mer was no ex­cep­tion. a Wals­ing­ham spokesman says that there was no trou­ble at all.

Those trav­ellers light­ing can­dles and say­ing prayers at the shrine had noth­ing to do with the gang ter­ror­is­ing Cromer a few days later. For po­lice in­tel­li­gence shows that the thugs had not come via Wals­ing­ham but from low­est­oft in Suf­folk.

So any at­tempt to paint them as de­vout pil­grims is clearly tripe. in­deed, the main­stream trav­el­ling com­mu­nity should be as an­gry as ev­ery­one else be­cause their own rep­u­ta­tion has been dragged through the mire.

‘i have ab­so­lutely no prob­lem with peo­ple who choose to lead a dif­fer­ent way of life and live peace­fully in a car­a­van,’ says lawrie Scott of Break­ers Cafe. ‘But we all have a prob­lem with a gang of hooli­gans who come to rob our town.’

What irks ev­ery­one here is the clear ap­pli­ca­tion of dou­ble stan­dards.

Mayor Fros­dick speaks for most when he says: ‘if you or i be­haved the way these peo­ple did, the po­lice would be down on us right away. But that didn’t hap­pen and we want to know why.’

For an an­swer, they need only look at the cat­a­logue of fail­ings which have oc­curred when pub­lic bod­ies al­low fear and po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness to trump com­mon sense.

Shock­ing cases of sex­ual abuse by asian ‘ groom­ing’ gangs in rother­ham, rochdale, Ox­ford and new­cas­tle are all ex­am­ples of the way in which au­thor­ity can be more fear­ful of a charge of racism than a charge of in­com­pe­tence. We see the same mind­set pre­vail­ing week af­ter week.

Hence, Manchester royal in­fir­mary’s de­ci­sion to set aside a free park­ing area for trav­ellers while ev­ery­one else vis­it­ing fam­ily mem­bers in the hos­pi­tal must pay £15 a day, on pain of a fine or be­ing towed away.

Or there was Can­ter­bury City Coun­cil’s de­ci­sion to al­low trav­ellers to park il­le­gally for free for four days at a car park in Herne Bay while 24 non-trav­ellers were fined in the same place over the same pe­riod.

a spokesman said the coun­cil gave the trav­ellers an ex­emp­tion to avoid ‘in­flam­ing the sit­u­a­tion’.

Does of­fi­cial­dom be­gin to un­der­stand how cor­ro­sive these small de­ci­sions can be for so­cial co­he­sion? it’s hardly jus­tice ‘ with­out fear or favour’. The peo­ple of Cromer feel much the same.

My jour­ney be­gins at the run­ton road car park, a pop­u­lar clifftop spot on the edge of town with dra­matic sea views.

a large coun­cil sign makes it clear that camp­ing is for­bid­den and that the daily park­ing charge is £7.

it was here that the ir­ish trav­ellers parked their mo­torhomes — with­out pay­ing. around town, traf­fic war­dens were slap­ping tick­ets on other cars over that week­end. But not here.

along­side this car park stood the mar­quee for the big party to mark the end of Cromer’s car­ni­val week.

As early re­ports of trou­ble around town fil­tered through, they were soon call­ing in se­cu­rity re­in­force­ments. Car­ni­val chair­man Tim Shipp says some trav­ellers were caught try­ing to climb over the se­cu­rity fence with­out pay­ing.

By now, dozens of trav­ellers had left the Al­bion pub with­out set­tling a bill of more than £100.

At around the same time, Danny Hick­ling was clos­ing up his Lit­tle Gems jew­ellery shop when he re­alised that £1,000 of gems had gone. More items had been stolen in one af­ter­noon than in 18 years. He has given his CCTV film to the po­lice.

At Cromer So­cial Club, a large group of trav­ellers de­manded drinks as last or­ders were called and were asked to leave. When they re­fused the stew­ard, Jeremy Gar­ner, called the po­lice.

Shortly be­fore mid­night, half a dozen of­fi­cers ar­rived and asked them to leave, a re­quest that was ig­nored. The po­lice then left.

‘The trav­ellers had turned up with this pushchair which turned out not to have a baby in it but it was car­ry­ing a lot of drink, so they just car­ried on,’ ex­plains Mr Gar­ner.

It was at around this time that the al­leged rape took place at the lo­cal bus sta­tion.

Fi­nally, at 2am, the po­lice re­turned with re­in­force­ments. The trav­ellers then left — again with a three-fig­ure drinks bill un­paid. The fol­low­ing day there were fur­ther re­ports of pil­fer­ing and abu­sive be­hav­iour all over town.

By Satur­day teatime, Mor­risons petrol sta­tion had shut fol­low­ing re­ports of re­peated shoplift­ing by gangs of chil­dren. Staff say they are for­bid­den to talk about it. Back at the Cromer So­cial Club, staff had re­opened at lunchtime but, as fur­ther re­ports of un­rest be­gan to cir­cu­late, the man­age­ment de­cided to close for the rest of the day.

Not only would it mean for­feit­ing thou­sands of pounds in tak­ings but the club would still have to pay £300 for the band. In the Welling­ton pub the at­mos­phere grew in­creas­ingly tense as 30 trav­ellers be­came ‘rowdy’ with staff.

Here, the man­ager, too, de­cided to close — where­upon the group moved on to lay siege to Mary Jane’s Fish and Chip Shop. ‘They just barged to the front and started shout­ing abuse when we asked them to join the queue,’ says duty man­ager Ian Cooper, 41.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, staff here de­cided to close — at which point, one trav­eller tried to kick in the door and threat­ened to smash the win­dow.

At the nearby Masala Twist In­dian restau­rant, an­other large group of trav­ellers were start­ing to dis­turb other cus­tomers. When owner Nashim Ud­din asked them

to leave, the trav­ellers started grab­bing bot­tles of al­co­hol.

As Mr Ud­din’s wife, Ayrun, and nephew, Jamil, vainly tried to re­trieve the stolen booze, she had her arm slammed in a door.

Three po­lice ve­hi­cles and a dog han­dler were across the road and Jamil says he ran over for help.

He later told the East­ern Daily Press that he asked an of­fi­cer to use the dog but was told the of­fi­cers felt ‘ out­num­bered’. Jamil ex­plained: ‘The of­fi­cers said: ‘‘If it kicks off, the dog will get in­jured.’’ I was re­ally an­gry at this point.’

The po­lice say this in­ci­dent is one of many now un­der re­view. Even­tu­ally, the trav­ellers moved on. With nowhere to drink in Cromer, sev­eral car-loads set off to­wards neigh­bour­ing East and West Run­ton.

Un­der­stand­ably, lo­cals want to know whether any of them was stopped and breathal­ysed. Nor­folk Po­lice is not say­ing, but in­sist this point will be ad­dressed in their re­view.

Come Sun­day morn­ing, there were yet more re­ports of trou­ble, in­clud­ing a scuf­fle at a car­a­van park, be­fore the gang fi­nally moved on. To­day, weeks later, a court or­der is pinned up in the car park, list­ing the trav­ellers’ num­ber plates and warn­ing them not to re­turn.

For their part, the po­lice have sent me a long state­ment ex­plain­ing that they have com­mis­sioned a wide-rang­ing re­port and will give their rec­om­men­da­tions shortly.

Lo­cal MP Nor­man Lamb says he’ll en­sure there is no cover-up: ‘The po­lice feel bruised by this, but it is in their in­ter­ests to be as trans­par­ent as pos­si­ble.’

Cromer has not for­got­ten the — be­lated — words of Chief Con­sta­ble Si­mon Bai­ley: ‘ you’ve got to give me a chance to re­build your trust. What hap­pened that week­end can­not hap­pen again.’

As they en­deav­our to re­store their town’s rep­u­ta­tion for crab, not crime, res­i­dents will cer­tainly be hold­ing him to his pledge.

yet, does any­one se­ri­ously imag­ine that this is the last time that au­thor­ity per­mits fear and po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness to trump the safety of a lo­cal com­mu­nity?

Gen­teel: But Cromer was rocked by a week­end of unchecked trav­eller crime

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