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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 22:47 GMT
Cracking down on youth crime
Stapleton Road in Easton
Stapleton Road in Easton has a high crime rate

The four teenagers who walked into Ambalal Patel's shop knew exactly what they wanted.

One picked up a hammer from the tools on the shelves, walked up to Mr Patel, and struck him on the head.

As the shopkeeper lay unconscious on the floor, the youths - none of them much more than 16 - picked up the cash register and staggered out of the shop.

They have never been caught, and while Mr Patel has recovered from his injuries, he is understandably wary of the youngsters who loiter outside his general store.

Shop owner Ambalal Patel
Ambalal Patel is thinking about leaving Easton
This is Stapleton Road in Easton, part of the inner city of Bristol. It is an area with an unenviable reputation for crime.

Much of the crime involving young people is thought to be drug-related.

But there is also a lot of unemployment here, with youths hanging around on street corners.

"A lot of the people here are poor," says Mr Patel, as we look out of his shop window at the passers-by.

"You see a lot of young people hanging around, running after each other and starting fights.

"They spit at the shop windows, just to annoy you, and they are just not worried about being punished. They just don't care."

Policing priority

Mr Patel says he would like to see the police given powers to deal with trouble-makers on the spot.

"At the moment, there is not a lot the police can do," he says. "It is getting worse day by day, and I think I might move away from the area."

The problems in the Easton district have been well-publicised. The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, visited Stapleton Road earlier this year to talk to local people.

It became one of five Policing Priority areas, targeted as part of an initiative to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour.

The government is now expected to announce a nationwide campaign to curb the activities of young people who cause damage and disorder on the streets.


Tackling anti-social behaviour is important, but you have to find out why people think it is OK to behave like that

Dr Simon Bale
Dr Simon Bale is a volunteer with Active Communities Together, a community organisation that is trying to improve the lot of people living in deprived areas of Bristol.

"Easton is on a knife-edge," he says. "You can throw money at places like this, but if you turn your back, it will go downhill again.

"The problem is not Stapleton Road, it is deeper than that, and there is a danger of thinking there can be a quick fix.

"Tackling anti-social behaviour is important, but you have to find out why people think it is OK to behave like that."

Positive view

Dr Bale has some sympathy for the young people who hang around on street corners, with nothing to do.

"When you are twelve or thirteen you hang out, and there is nothing wrong in it.

"We did it when we were young, but now it is perceived as a bad thing, and there is a tendency to hang 'em high.

"We need to be more creative than just telling them off."

He believes that community action can encourage local people to take a more positive view of the area in which they live.

Recently he helped residents of Stapleton Road in a successful campaign to get a brothel closed down.

Pub landlady Barbara Robertson
Pub landlady Barbara Robertson says she is losing business
Many of the people who live and work here resent the way Easton has been labelled as a crime hot spot. They say it makes people from other parts of Bristol avoid the area.

Barbara Robertson runs two pubs on Stapleton Road and she has seen the impact on trade.

"Business here has been affected, and the more it gets on the news, the more people stay away," she says.

"The road has got a bit of a bad name, but the trouble tends to happen in the side streets, and round the back."

Drug area

She has installed closed circuit television cameras in her two pubs as a deterrent to drug users.

"I feel it is a precaution for myself," she says. "I would not have junkies on the premises, and this is very much a drug area. It is mainly because they are allowed to get away with it."

At the local leisure centre, Julie Jenkins gives swimming lessons to children from local schools. Like others who work here, she is only too aware of the risks of losing valuables.

Swimming teacher Julie Jenkins
Julie Jenkins has seen a rise in the number of unruly children
She tells me how one day a woman came into the pool area, posing as the mother of one of the children. She then went through the lockers, stealing wallets and purses.

As for the children, she sees a growing problem of poor discipline leading to unruly behaviour.

"You get lots of attitude from kids these days, and there is no respect," she says.

"My eldest son is 15 and he is going off the rails a bit, even though I have been very firm with him. I think it is the crowd he is mixing with."

Based on their own experiences in Easton, many of the people I spoke to would welcome government action to curb anti-social behaviour.

But many also wonder how much of an impact such initiatives will really have.

See also:

23 Oct 02 | UK
18 Oct 02 | Scotland
26 Sep 02 | Politics
15 Sep 02 | Cracking Crime
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