Crime in Britain: Rude awakening for peaceful town: Peter Dunn reports from an area of Somerset where a vicar and a retired soldier have joined forces against lawlessness are leading the fight against crime

Click to follow
The Independent Online
RUSTIC bobbies being rare these days, George Holmes, a retired soldier, and the Rev Peter Curtis are both doing their bit to combat crime in the Georgian town of Crewkerne, Somerset.

As in many rural areas, where people feel increasingly that the police are powerless to control vandalism, burglary and anti-social behaviour from rude youths, parson and pensioner feel that theirs is a thankless task.

Crewkerne, which made the sails for Nelson's Victory in its industrial heyday, looks exhausted by the recession with bankrupt shops, its main street dominated by a semi-derelict hotel.

It was Mr Holmes, a former regimental quartermaster sergeant, who arrested Margaret Williams, a poverty-stricken, middle-aged bank robber, who had raided the Bristol and West Building Society and taken pounds 700.

Williams, whose four-year jail sentence was reduced on appeal, was carrying out her second raid on the same office, netting her a total of pounds 6,000. Mr Holmes had to detain her for 20 minutes before the first policeman arrived.

Over at the 15th-century church of St Bartholomew's, where security cameras have been installed after a spate of thefts, Mr Curtis, the rector, is close to despair about his town and the plundering of rural churches. 'There's been nothing like it since the time of Henry VIII when the monasteries were sacked or destroyed,' he says.

Unlike many of Crewkerne's 6,000 population, the rector has adopted an up- front policy with groups who rev their motorcycles in the supermarket car park and jeer at pensioners. In a sense he has replaced the local bobby, now a figure of mythology, talking to the boys about the weather or football - anything, he says, to make them feel the adult world is taking an interest.

Alluding to the parable of the Good Samaritan, he says: 'I say to people 'When you see these youngsters on the street corner being rude don't be like the Levite and pass by on the other side'. That's quite a tall order but it's important to encourage the young, to make them feel wanted. We've had a problem with them coming here in cars and racing around, which frightened a lot of people.

'Another problem has been the endless number of broken shop windows. Under age drinking is the root of it. Sometimes we've had lots of smashed bottles in the churchyard. The police don't know how to tackle it and I've every sympathy with them.

'My real concern is that we're marginalising youngsters; they're in danger of becoming outlaws, outcasts. If they can't find ways of contributing to the community's well-being they're going to pull it apart.'

Inadequate policing is a constant worry. 'Coverage here is pathetic but isn't it everywhere these days?' Mrs Pat Manthorp-Loud, the town clerk, says. 'What local people really want to see . . . is the bobby on the beat.'

In a town that was solidly Tory until the Liberal Democrats took power last year, few people share the Prime Minister's view that urban violence is caused by socialism. The mayor, Colonel Tony Dowse-Brenan, says: 'I think perhaps there are social as op

(Photograph omitted)