Young yobs must be stopped

Ian ClarkeAngry people whose community in Dereham has been terrorised by a gang of youths have warned that vigilantes may take the law into their own hands if police cannot deal with the problems.Ian Clarke

Angry people whose community in Dereham has been terrorised by a gang of youths have warned that vigilantes may take the law into their own hands if police cannot deal with the problems.

Nearly 200 residents from part of the Hillcrest estate in Toftwood packed into a public meeting and lined up to describe how their lives are being made a misery by criminal activity and anti-social behaviour from a group of youngsters who roam the streets.

Some said they were too frightened to leave their homes as groups up to 12-strong - including children reportedly as young as eight - hung around outside.

The catalogue of problems includes cars being damaged, stones thrown at windows, abuse and swearing, wheelie bins overturned, doors knocked on in the early hours, burning paper thrown into gardens and footballs kicked into roads.

The meeting was organised by Breckland Council and police. Several people said it was children from two families at the heart of the problems.

Officials had been aware of the growing problem on the estate but were surprised by the huge turnout and the deep sense of anger and frustration.

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Police came in for criticism for not doing enough to tackle the problems and residents also complained that the youngsters' parents were not being held responsible.

One man at the meeting said: 'Our lives are being ruined by about a dozen kids and nothing is being done about it and we will go back to the problems after this meeting.'

Keith Webb, 64, who used to live in East London, was the first resident to outline the misery felt by local people.

'We are fed up and people cannot go out of their houses. Police have been down there but it is still going on. Residents are getting so fed up they are talking about getting a vigilante group to sort them out.'

Even while the meeting was on, one man was called by his unwell wife who said a gang had been hanging about outside and when she went to speak to them she got 'a mouthful of abuse.'

Insp Peter Walsh, of Dereham Police, insisted police were taking action and urged people to help gather evidence to allow offenders to be prosecuted.

He urged residents not to take the law into their own hands, but admitted the stories he had heard from residents were 'disturbing.'

'We are satisfied that there is a small group of people involved. We have made one arrest and will make more arrests.'

Insp Walsh said from last autumn there had been a steady rise in the number of recorded incidents. He said two officers were now patrolling the area every night.

Recorded incidents of anti-social behaviour in Toftwood have gone up 175pc in the past 12 months.

A range of ideas were put forward at the meeting to try to tackle the problems including a curfew, CCTV, using professional witnesses to catch offenders and Homewatch groups.

Breckland Council's anti-social behaviour officer Tracey Baxter said great efforts were being made to get to the bottom of why the youngsters were creating the problems.

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