The city hit by a wave of chaos… where something is seriously wrong
Alan Sutcliffe was returning from the pub when he saw flames in the nearby park.
Police were on the scene, but Alan says another group was already heading towards the park as he drove away.
A wave of anti-social behavior has hit the town of Denton in Tameside in recent months.
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At its peak, groups of “30 or 40 young people or so” regularly descended on Crownpoint Shopping Park, particularly outside McDonald’s.
Authorities timed and work intensified in the area. Unruly gatherings have diminished.
But that left a smaller number of people, determined to cause unrest in the community, to disperse to other parts of the city.
Victoria Park – tucked away behind Denton Town Hall and Civic Square near Stockport Road – saw two fires in two days on a busy weekend for police and firefighters.
Trash cans were dragged over the park’s Grade II listed bandstand, which is over 100 years old, and set on fire on January 29 and 30.
Alan saw what happened the second of those days.
He told the Manchester Evening News “I was coming back from the pub when I saw the fire.
“I went to the second gate, I could see the police were already there and I could hear the fire department coming, they got here pretty quickly.
“As I was coming back there was another group of guys on bikes, going back to the park. Around the area there are a lot of guys on scooters and bikes going around.
“They are lucky. The bandstand is old and the roof is wooden, the heat could have done something if it had been left to burn.
“There are a few shops where there is always trash outside – are they going to set them on fire too?”
Alan says the park is a hive of activity in the community – with a nearby center where older residents can meet and enjoy tea and toast.
A number of community groups spend their time volunteering to make the area stand out, such as the Trash Pickers and Friends of Victoria Park, while the Denton Park Social Bowling Club plays on the park’s bocce court.
The Yobs targeted the club last summer – rushing onto the green, doing wheelies on bicycles to trash the lush lawn and hurling abuse at its members.
Other members of the Denton community – including Tameside Youth Services, PCSOs and local politicians – rallied in support of the club following the event.
It’s the same community spirit that has driven Neighborhood Police, Council, voluntary groups and businesses to come together to tackle anti-social behavior in Denton.
So when club secretary Tony Moran heard about the January 30 arson, he “felt physically ill”.
He said: “We thought the tide had turned, we got a lot of support from the community, but to be honest it set our volunteers back a bit. You think, going back hell.
“Everyone is contributing – but it’s still arson.
“We expect anti-social behavior from the kids and they get over it and move on – but that seems like something really wrong.”
Tony says the park has been a “lifeline” for many in the community during the pandemic, but issues of antisocial behavior have shaken the confidence of some.
Both Tony and Alan noted that the gates to the park were open on the evening of the fire, although they had been closed on the evening of last year following a previous wave of anti-social behavior.
Arsonists targeted the Denton Park Social clubhouse in 2018.
Two years ago the park experienced three similar bandstand fires in the space of a month, leading Tony to label Victoria Park a ‘no go zone’ at the time.
As more recently, work was put in place to stem the issue in the community in January 2020.
But turbulent scenes at Crownpoint have since been followed by flashes of anti-social behavior across the city, including “young people throwing bottles” in Civic Square, Tony says.
“I think downtown is getting a reputation as a bed,” he added.
“We have people not walking in the park because of this incident with the youngsters, and it’s sad.
“We want to restore the confidence of some of our elderly residents who want to use the park.
“For our part, we will crack to do what we do.”
The problem of anti-social behavior in Denton is well known to MP Andrew Gwynne.
He says there has been a ‘massive crackdown’ on the issue at Crownpoint, particularly at McDonald’s, but it has ‘moved’ it to other parts of the city such as Victoria Park.
The Labor MP for Denton said the recent incidents highlight the need to invest in both neighborhood policing and youth services – giving young people something positive to do, while allowing officers to to attack those who intend to wreak havoc.
Andrew said: “The city center is safe overall, but the perception is often very different – when you see kids hanging around and people are worried something is going to happen.
“I get it. That’s why I want the police and youth services to work together, let’s tackle the problem head on, but also advocate for more resources so that the neighborhood police nip this in the bud rather than that. not become a problem.
“It also shows the value of youth work. It’s something that over the last decade has become a Cinderella service.
“It was easy to cut it because it’s not a statutory service, but if you cut work and youth supply at the same time as neighborhood policing you get the perfect storm.”
Andrew notes that the most deprived areas have seen the heaviest cuts to youth services in what has become a “vicious circle”, and believes that investing in young people should be a key part of the ” upgrade” of the government.
“There is no magic money hidden at the town hall,” he added.
Tameside’s new Chief Superintendent Rob Cousen is intent on upending the reputation of Greater Manchester Police among community members, admitting confidence in the force has diminished of late.
He points to the force record in the borough since he took office four months ago – with more than 1,100 arrests and Tameside has seen reductions in a number of different crimes, including anti-social behavior – both as a measure of success and a statement of intent. .
But Chf Supt Cousen admits anti-social behavior at Denton is a key issue.
Officers targeted the area outside McDonald’s at Crownpoint, cutting wi-fi and using CCTV to ensure the area no longer attracted loiterers.
The hotspot had attracted groups “of about 30 to 40 people”, says Chf Supt Cousen, but now incidents elsewhere in the city are being carried out by much smaller groups.
The “senseless damage” seen at Victoria Park – with incidents on January 29 and 30 said to be linked – was an issue that had been anticipated by officers following the work at Crownpoint, it adds.
“There’s certainly not a feeling that it’s lawless in Denton,” Superintendent Cousen said.
“The PCSOs and community officers have done an absolutely wonderful job, there is also a lot of work going on with the schools around education.”
Chf Supt Cousen says Denton has a great community spirit and a drive to tackle the problem – working with volunteers and businesses.
Events that had dwindled during the pandemic to build trust in the community, like surgeries and neighborhood watch groups, are making a comeback.
Yet while GMP “tries to get people in the right places at the right time”, the force says it depends on community intelligence to get the problem under control.
“We have a small group of young people who intend to provoke anti-social behavior,” added Chf Supt Cousen.
“We will be relentless in prosecuting and deterring them – and if necessary, bringing them to justice.
“We prefer to educate them. We don’t want to criminalize young people but when they trash things that people have put in place, we can’t allow them to do that, we have to do something.”
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