SLIDESHOW: On resort’s Friday night beat

After two weeks of trouble, in which a mob of youths pelted police officers with bottles, reporter RYAN TUTE went on patrol with officers at the final Fireworks Championships

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 30th September 2014, 11:00 am
Blackpool's Police operation to prevent rioting gang youths in the town centre.
26th September 2014
Blackpool's Police operation to prevent rioting gang youths in the town centre. 26th September 2014

The atmosphere was quiet, eerie almost and then...a shocking mass of noise and colour.

As I made the short walk from Blackpool Promenade on to Bank Hey Street, it was hard to know what to expect.

It is here that a police operation to quell trouble which had marred two of the previous three Friday nights in Blackpool was centred.

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Blackpool's Police operation to prevent rioting gang youths in the town centre. 26th September 2014

Last week officers were pelted with bottles by up to 500 youths, leaving three of them injured.

Two weeks before that, witnesses described scrambling away from the same area in fear as gangs of teenagers fought with each other.

The violence made front page headlines in The Gazette. It sent shockwaves of disgust and anger through community leaders.

And on Friday just gone, police were determined not to let it happen again.

A huge operation was launched to clamp down on the troublemakers, to stop the nuisance before it started.

By 8.30pm I had ventured alone to Bank Hey Street, the critical area in the operation.

It was when I turned the corner on to the street, that the silence was shattered.

On both sides of the street, all the eye could see was a mix of excitable teenagers with pairs of police in high-visibility jackets lodged between them.

It seemed the trouble the week before had not put many off – but equally, visiting families were aware of exactly what had happened.

A family who had come from Wigan for the fireworks said: “We only ended up coming after reading there would be an increased police presence.”

A doorman from the Sands Venue said the previous week’s violence had got out of hand very quickly.

He said: “It was just stupid last week, there was nothing that the police could do, the police repeatedly asked the kids to go home but they were having none of it.

“It got that bad that door staff here had to assist with arrests.

“Kids from Wigan, Preston and Blackpool are all coming to the town for the fireworks and planning fights on social media beforehand. Staff here are ready to assist again tonight.”

Soon after the fireworks had finished at 9.30pm, I realised I was immersed within a sea of teenagers as mounted police began to move in between groups that were increasing in numbers.

It may seem unusual for a regular Friday night, but it was clear such tactics were used in order to minimise the potential for trouble.

This was the business end of the evening, but my night had started much earlier, with an insight into the sheer level of planning involved in the operation.

On arriving at the station, it was soon apparent that Friday’s operation was important.

Lots of officers in high-visibility jackets were rushing past me collecting last minute coffees and equipment for the evening ahead.

I was escorted through underground corridors and was led past an array of vehicles ready for deployment.

Eventually I was greeted by a mass of high-visibility jackets huddled together waiting to enter the meeting room for a briefing on the night’s operation.

One by one, everyone filed into the meeting room and a sudden hush fell over the room as the Superintendent entered to deliver a speech on what he wanted from the night.

Superintendent Peter Lawson repeated various key messages that were important to combat any repeats of the week before.

He reinforced the need to “speak and engage with people at every opportunity” and to ensure “early positive action”.

Supt Lawson said: “This is not a massive operation, it is a strengthened operation, I hope that we have more than enough officers on patrol tonight. It is an operation to make sure that everything runs smoothly. The key is to have an engaging, fair, and friendly style of policing.”

When asked about any information on a repeat of pre-planned fights, Supt Lawson was quick to explain how these had been hopefully eradicated.

He said: “There have been really positive messages sent out via schools and colleges this week to make sure they know that they’re no longer anonymous and there will be consequences. We have also trawled through social media sites and visited the homes of people who threatened to cause any trouble.”

My night began with the bright lights of the Promenade as I patrolled with Special Constables Mark Robinson and Sonia Boden.

Both are unpaid and volunteer their time to help the police whenever called upon.

The work of the 19 Special Constables that were deployed on Friday night shouldn’t go unnoticed as I saw both work together acting as a friendly face engaging with anyone they met.

Even with a rush of intoxicated revellers passing by they ensured that any rising tempers were quashed within a minute of speaking to them.

It was then I went to Bank Hey Street.

But by 10pm the streets had emptied with just the remains of empty cans and food wrappers littering the streets.

There had been no arrests made and no repeat of the week before’s scenes. The operation was a success.

Sgt Sarah Sharman credited an increase in police presence as the most important reason behind a successful, trouble-free night.

She said: “If I could have it my way then I would have a helicopter, four horses and all the police force on hand but I know that is not possible.

“Nothing will beat an observable police presence and nights like tonight prove that.”

Echoing the views that most people in the town were there for a trouble-free evening, Sgt Sharman added: “99 per cent of the people that get caught up in the mayhem don’t want to but it only takes one 
moment of panic or fear for something to happen.”