‘It won’t happen again’ - police chief pledges no repeat of Cromer lockdown
- Credit: copyright ARCHANT 2017
During one weekend last August, Cromer was put on 'lockdown' as a group of travellers wreaked havoc on the close-knit seaside community. But is the town ready for their possible return? JESSICA FRANK-KEYES reports...
It was a weekend Cromer will never forget.
Last August, the seaside town was rocked by a weekend of violent disorder, which saw pubs and restaurants closing their doors, thefts, assault, criminal damage, and a rape allegation for which no charges were ever brought.
And one year on, residents and business owners still describe the police response as 'disgraceful', and believe lives were put at risk.
Norfolk's chief of police said he recognised trust in the force had been lost, and pledged: 'It won't happen again.'
Chief constable Simon Bailey said: 'The faults of the constabulary are well documented.
'It wasn't communicated enough between Suffolk and Norfolk that this group who had caused significant trouble in Lowestoft were all in Cromer until it was too late.
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'There has been a review and we've addressed these failings.
'There is now a regional response in place where all forces across the region are looking to help each other.
'We are putting on additional resources this year to ensure that if there is any sign of trouble it will be dealt with robustly.'
The violence erupted on the last day of the annual Cromer Carnival Week.
Norfolk police vowed to work with Cromer Carnival Committee and review its planning for the Feast of the Assumption at Walsingham to ensure that appropriate resources are in place to prevent a reoccurrence of the problems.
The constabulary also developed a key list of community contacts within Cromer and Walsingham to call upon for support in the planning and response to any similar issues.
A Freedom of Information request to Norfolk police revealed that 53 incidents were recorded between Friday, August 18 and Sunday, August 20, with 37 crimes reported, the most serious of which was the alleged rape of a teenager at a bus stop in Cadogan Road by two men.
Pubs and restaurants closed their doors early on Saturday, August 19, after safety fears were prompted by the arrival of a group of travellers, who set up camp in the Runton Road carpark.
It led to the town being put on lockdown on what should have been one of the busiest weekends of the year.
Police were criticised for initially characterising the disorder as 'low level', which Mr Bailey later admitted was a mistake.
And a report into the weekend's events saw police reforms pledged.
Mr Bailey said: 'I absolutely recognise that I lost some of the trust and confidence of the community in Cromer and that's why we have taken positive steps to win that back.
'It won't happen again. There are travellers in the area and there are no issues at the moment.
'The most important thing is that all the businesses in Cromer have a really successful summer.
'It's the responsibility of the constabulary to ensure that.'
But residents and business owners say they felt let down by the police, and that a lack of officer numbers played a role in the chaos.
Nashim Uddin, owner of Masala Twist, said: 'After what happened last time I wouldn't take their word for it.
'They should really put more police force on the streets. There were seven or eight officers and that was the whole of the force.'
Mr Uddin, 45, said a crowd of around 40 travellers stole drinks from his premises.
He criticised police for leaving his staff and family to cope with the incident, which saw his wife injured when her arm was trapped in the door.
He said: 'It was my family - my wife, daughter and nephew. At the time I just wanted the travellers out. But I put everybody's life in danger (by staying open).'
But he refused to close, saying: 'I would not let people like that come and shut me down.'
Head chef at Indian on the Cliff, Jeet Mittmann, 74, said: 'The police came in at about 8pm and told us to shut the doors.
'We said we had got a lot of bookings but they told us 'they'll do more damage to your property'.
'It was as if the war had started. The way they came in saying 'shut the doors'. They didn't have enough manpower.'
Police report into response to disorder
Norfolk police held several public meetings to address the Cromer community's criticism of their response.
A report was also conducted into what went wrong and how future incidents could be handled better.
It focused on four key areas where the police response could have been improved.
Flow of information and intelligence. Some officers were aware that travellers were heading to Norfolk but this was not correctly recorded on official systems.
Leadership and command decisions. An independent review into the decisions of individual commanders was carried out by Cumbria Constabulary.
Media response. Media advisors made initial decisions without knowing the full facts, which led to the force stating incorrectly that incidents were 'low level'.
Protocols for dealing with unauthorised encampments. Certain travelling groups are now being seen more frequently in Norfolk and protocols should be updated.
Traveller discrimination and site shortage
Discrimination against travellers is an issue that many within the community say still exists in Norfolk.
Mum-of-three and business owner Rebecca Gallagher, 38, lives on a permanent traveller site near Norwich.
She told this newspaper: 'I hate how we are treated.
'There is good and bad in every walk of life.
'Not all Gypsies and Travellers are good, but not all are bad either.'
Another problem is a lack of traveller sites in Norfolk, with just five official sites run by the county council, and a further 100 authorised sites.
Government figures show there were 618 Gypsy, Roma and Traveller caravans in Norfolk and Waveney in January this year.
Chief constable Simon Bailey said: 'The fact is, it's a small number of people within the travelling community who cause havoc.
'The travellers are no different to a community living in Norwich, Cromer or King's Lynn - it's the minority who spoil it for the majority.'