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Stretched police admit they can’t always stop Primrose Hill park party chaos

Inspector calls for a "permanent physical solution that does not involve the use of police officers”

23 April, 2021 — By Bronwen Weatherby

Lockdown raves in the park have been common

POLICE have warned sleepless residents they do not have the resources to stop all the lockdown parties on Primrose Hill – as late-night noise and trouble returned to the park.

Neighbours said they felt “crushed” after being kept awake by more gatherings and then finding the park strewn with litter the following morning this weekend.

Meanwhile, two businesses in nearby Regent’s Park Road had their front windows smashed in by vandals, with owners fearing a rise in crime in the area.

Police had responded to concerns about nuisance behaviour in and around the park by sending teams of officers in to patrol through the night for one weekend earlier this month.

But Inspector Paul Clarke said they could not keep that up over the weekend, adding: “We tasked policing resources to Primrose Hill as we’d done the weekend before, but unfortunately we had competing demands across Camden and Islington, especially because of the reopening of licensed premises.

“Unfortunately, if there are more serious incidents going on elsewhere, then they will take priority. We only have a certain amount of resources to cover the whole of the two boroughs.”

Signs placed in the park on weekends

Insp Clarke said: “It’s not nice. I wouldn’t want to live in an area where I was being constantly harassed and people were making noise and I massively feel for residents. No one should have to live with that. So while we can’t promise to fix the problem, we promise to do our best.”

But he added: “Putting police officers in Primrose Hill on a permanent basis is not cost-effective and not sustainable. Ideally, there needs to be a permanent physical solution that does not involve the use of police officers.”

For several months, residents have been describing chaotic scenes in the park during the coronavirus lockdown – and now they fear more is to come.

Eleanor Sturdy, who lives nearby, said: “Although they announced the park was shutting at 10pm, it didn’t actually happen, and large crowds gathered, there was lots of noise and trouble. It was very frustrating.”

Another resident, Lucy Cottrell, said: “Large sound systems were set up in the afternoon and played for several hours straight and continued on until the early hours of the morning. Lots of people were peeing in our garden again, a queue formed at one point, and one person climbed over our fence to get in.”

Community activist Phil Cowan said: “We thought the police were going to shut the park for three weekends in a row but then on the second weekend they didn’t manage it. On Sunday morning, we awoke to smashed glass everywhere, and toilet tissue strewn about the place.

“It was disgusting. It was a perfect example of why it can’t just be left to the police.

“If The Royal Parks are taking the view that these problems are going to magically disappear as lockdown eases then, in my opinion, that view is at best optimistic and at worst naive.”

A petition urging The Royal Parks, which manages Primrose Hill, to install gates around the park has now gathered 500 signatures. However, parks manager Nick Biddle has said he believes gates would not work. On Hampstead Heath, the head of the Heath constabulary, Richard Gentry, said there was concern that closing Primrose Hill on weekend nights would lead to partygoers switching locations.

“There is a concern there may be some displacement to the Heath. We haven’t seen that yet – but we are monitoring it,” he said.

Primrose Hill is the only royal park to be left open all day and night, and has been so since the 1970s when, according to local historian Martin Sheppard, residents protested against attempts by the parks agency to close the gates at night to “reduce vandalism”, going as far as to damage the padlocks and gates themselves.

The Royal Parks said their position had not changed, and simply reissued a statement from last week which said the park would be closed from 10pm on the weekend as a “short-term solution to deal with the persistent anti-social behaviour and disruption to the local neighbourhood that we have witnessed since lockdown rules have begun to be lifted”.

Shops suffer vandalism

Sweet Things cafe had its windows smashed last week

TWO shops in Primrose Hill had their windows smashed in the early hours of Friday, writes Bronwen Weatherby. Sweet Things café and Primrose Hill Books, on Regent’s Park Road, were the targets of the vandalism.

Nothing was stolen from the shops but they have both had to have their window panes replaced.

Sweet Things owner Natalie Allen said the damage to the café is estimated to have cost £2,000.

She told the New Journal: “My shop is my baby, it’s my world, and seeing the windows broken with glass everywhere was soul-destroying, especially after being closed for so long and only now being able to reopen. At first I thought, is someone targeting me? But I don’t think whoever did this did it with malicious intent. I think they were probably off their face and we were the unlucky ones.”

She added: “If anything, the area has become the target. There’s been a lot of problems around here since people have been allowed out again. Primrose Hill is now a known place to party, and there are lots of petty thefts happening: mobile phones being stolen [and] there was an attempted stabbing incident on the Hill a couple of weeks back, too. My customers and people who live here say they are starting to feel unsafe in the neighbourhood. I’ve been here 10 years and I’ve never seen it like this before.”

Natalie Allen

Police have so far not made any arrests in relation to the criminal damage of either property.

Ms Allen said: “The park being open at night is a big factor in what’s going on, so something needs to be done. If the police can’t man it throughout the night then it needs gates.”

Ms Allen said she is considering buying shutters for the shop to prevent the windows from being smashed in future. A police spokesperson said the damage to the bookshop had not been reported and said “we would definitely encourage them to do so”.

Adam Simmonds, who owns an optician’s business on the road, said: “It’s well documented that there’s been a lot of violence and general anti-social behaviour since this whole episode of people going mad in the park.

“Even though this senseless vandalism cannot be directly linked to the park, I think these incidents as well as many others are a knock-on effect of it. “Primrose Hill is on people’s radars now and it’ll take a lot to change that.”

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