New way to tackle the trouble-makers

Forget the heavy hand of the law - or even a slap on the wrist. Tackling crime by inviting trouble-makers on a heritage day out was the novel approach in Yarmouth yesterday.

Forget the heavy hand of the law or even a slap on the wrist –tackling crime by inviting trouble-makers on a heritage day out was the novel approach in Yarmouth yesterday.

Police community support officers (PCSOs) in the town believe that getting youngsters to enjoy the facilities they had been vandalising will stop them doing it again.

The officers are spearheading an initiative, the first of its kind in Norfolk, to tackle antisocial behaviour by getting the perpetrators to confront their victims or the results of their actions.

Yesterday, more than 20 children and their parents were invited to the 17th century Old Merchant's House Museum on South Quay, Yarmouth, which sits in the middle of the Dorset Close estate where they live.

Many have been caught vandalising the listed former wealthy merchant's house and the PCSOs hope that by experiencing the heritage in the heart of their community in all its glory, they will come to value it as their own.

Emilia Shurmur, PCSO for Middlegate which includes the museum and the estate, said: "One kid was picking all the cement out from between the bricks.

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"I thought maybe if I brought the children in to the museum, they would learn what their heritage is and learn to value it.

"They were promised Easter eggs as an incentive to come but once here we hope they will feel some ownership of the place."

PCSO Shurmur said that the idea had come from the successful results of a punishment the year before. She said: "A year ago an old lady in Burleigh Close complained to us because the kids were ripping her flower beds up

"We got them to come over and replant all her flower beds. Since then there has been no problems. I think it was because they have taken a kind of ownership of that garden as they planted it.

"The experience we have had is that when there is a problem we can turn it around."

Sgt Dan Smith, officer in charge of the PCSO team, said the scheme was about engaging with the children.

He said: "At the moment, we talk to 30 to 50-year-olds and find out their views.

"Now we are engaging with children too. We want them to understand what we do, get to know them on a personal level and find out from them what they think are the problems in the area."

Sgt Steve Ansett said: "This is a new way of doing things for the police in Norfolk."

Simon Tansley, visitor and operator site supervisor for English Heritage's Yarmouth Row Houses, of which the Old Merchant's House is part, said he agreed to give the children free entry and give out the chocolate because he did not see any point in just having a go at them.

He said: "Kids off the estate are not able to afford to come in. The more they are aware of what is going on in the building, the more they will respect it.

"It's easy for them to see men in suits going in and thinking it has nothing to do with them but the museum traces their past too."