Town centre CCTV axe is ‘madness’

Former camera operator Zowie Walsh.
Former camera operator Zowie Walsh.
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Hundreds of booze-fuelled thugs are getting away with crimes because of the scrapping of the town’s manned CCTV system, it was claimed today.

Zowie Walsh, who worked as a night-time camera operator in Blackpool Council’s CCTV room at the police station for four years, called the decision to pull the plug “madness”.

She added that, together with her colleagues, she would spot and report at least 600 crimes every year which could now be going unreported.

Zowie, 30, of Falkland Avenue, Marton, said that, working in co-operation with town centre security staff and emergency services, hundreds of would-be crimes, especially drunken street brawls, would be nipped in the bud.

She said: “It was a fantastic system and a vital tool.

“Getting rid of the staff manning it was madness. We were extremely pro-active and stopped many serious crimes before they had chance to happen. At least 50 times a month we would spot a crime about to happen and get a police officer there straight away.

“Now crimes will be going unreported and bizarrely the figures will no doubt show crime has gone down.”

The town’s CCTV cameras are still running but they are now unmanned as part of a move which shaved £187,000 from council budgets.

Craig Southall, chairman of Blackpool Pubwatch, which represents 126 pubs and clubs, said: “When it was up and running we would all have radio links to the control room and when we sensed something was about to kick off we could radio through and ask for cameras to be directed to an area.

“Once the trouble-makers knew the cameras were on them they would usually calm down pretty quickly.

“The CCTV operators could even warn the trouble makers over a loud-speaker that the police had been alerted.”

Coun Fred Jackson, deputy leader, said: “What we must remember is there are also many other tools used to prevent crimes at night. Police officers are in constant patrol and conversation with pubs and clubs throughout any night and that will continue.

“We think the night time economy in Blackpool could work better. It is a much more sustainable change to prevent crimes before they can happen than to simply attempt to deal with them as they are developing or when it is too late.”

Blackpool’s CCTV camera system, launched in 2001, cost about £1.5m to set-up.

Cameras were monitored round-the clock seven days a week until the first round of cuts in 2011, and the number of CCTV operators was reduced from 11 to three as part of a £908,000 package of cuts covering parking and CCTV.

Monitoring was reduced to Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Supt Stuart Noble, of Lancashire Police, said police understood why the decision had been taken, but added: “I would like to reassure people there remains a police presence in the town, working with our partners, including door staff and other town centre businesses, to respond to any incidents that may arise.”

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