The students' union at the University of Central Lancashire, in Preston, recorded more than a dozen attacks last term. This is more than they normally expect in a whole year. Most incidents were not robberies but random assaults, which local youths call "skelping". Although the incidents are from one town, similar events appear to happen across the country.
Paul Young, Matt Yallop and Gordon Stobbart are first-year students living in the same halls of residence. Gordon and Paul were attacked outside a pizza parlour in the town in November. Two days later, Matt was attacked at the same place in front of his friends.
Both incidents took place late at night after they had visited night- clubs, and were unprovoked, according to the students. In fact, the students' union suspects that trouble-makers lie in wait after student nights at local clubs.
Paul and Gordon were attacked by a group of three youths, who approached them from across the road. Paul received a black eye; Gordon, who was knocked to the floor, then kicked, needed hospital treatment for cuts to his lips and face.
Matt was not badly hurt, but his attack could have been far more serious. A car pulled up outside the takeaway, and a man approached Matt, the most "student-looking" of the group.
Matt says he was hit without warning. He hit back, but the attacker, in his thirties, pulled out a butterfly knife. Matt continued to fight back, and the attacker put the knife away. Then he calmly walked back to his car. Matt's reaction was one of shock. "I couldn't believe someone had hit me for no reason," he recalls.
The students reported both incidents to the police, but to date there have been no arrests.
The assaults have curtailed their social lives. "We are a bit wary about where we go now," says Paul. "We make a point of taking a taxi home rather than walking back from a club."
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