Curfew calls time on the rowdy youth of 'Cornwall's Moss Side'

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The Independent Online

"Have you ever been to the Close Hill estate?" the middle-aged man asked. "Good luck. I grew up there and you should only go if you can fight. And whatever you do, don't stay there after dark."

Hearing this warning, you could be forgiven for mistaking the area for one of the notorious and feared housing estates in poverty-stricken areas of Glasgow, Liverpool or Manchester. But we are in the Cornish town of Redruth.

Historically famous for its tin and copper mining, the parish is now renowned for having one of the highest crime rates in Cornwall; vandalism and antisocial behaviour are the most common misdemeanours. Last night, the town began to enforce the ultimate sanction on its unruly youngsters: a curfew requiring anyone under 16 to be indoors by 9pm.

The initiative, Operation Goodnight, will continue for six weeks and focus on the notorious Close Hill estate – a warren of six streets with a reputation for trouble. To the residents, it's the Cornish equivalent of Moss Side in Manchester or one of Glasgow's sink estates.

As the clock struck 9pm the streets were quiet. The teens whose behaviour had brought about the curfew were nowhere to be seen. In fact, the only sign of disquiet was not between youths, but adults. A man shouting abuse at a female neighbour ended with her in tears and him with a visit from the police.

The only youngsters caught breaking the curfew had done so by mistake rather than rebellion. Jamie Smith, 14, was one of a handful stopped and spoken to by officers in the first hour. He said: "I was on my way back from the shops and the police stopped me and took my name. They phoned my mum and asked her if she knew I was out. She told them she did and they just told me to hurry home."

Jamie wasn't the first. That "honour" went to a 10-year-old boy who was caught 10 minutes from his home just after 10pm. His excuse? He was having an argument with a girl about a kitten. PC Marc Griffin, the officer who suggested the scheme said: "It has gone very well so far. Tonight was always going to be the hardest night as it is something new and there was a lot of media attention. I think it will get better and better the longer it goes on."

It was all in contrast to the previous evening's activities. The middle-aged man who gave the warning on Thursday night – the last before the curfew began – clung to anonymity. "I'm not giving you my name," he said. "If these kids find out we've been speaking to the newspapers about them they will come and find me."

He added: "I had a bit of trouble with one of them. Let's just say he was doing things he shouldn't have been. I cornered him in the street and gave him a ticking off. The next thing, I was surrounded by 40 of them.

"If it wasn't for someone I knew passing by they'd have battered me."

Over on the Close Hill estate, nicknamed Banjo Alley because it is shaped like the musical instrument, Kay Mugford and Jeanette Jacka sat chatting on a garden wall at 8pm.

Both mothers have lived in Close Hill for most of their lives. "In the last two years the estate has been worse than ever," said Ms Mugford. "Every night there are gangs of kids on the streets, shouting, swearing, fighting and causing a nuisance. They sit on the streets in front of my house drinking alcohol and openly taking drugs until all hours ... If we go outside to say anything we get a mouthful of foul language so we just have to put up with it."

Motioning towards her son, Andrew, 12, still wearing his school uniform, she says: "He won't walk the streets after dark. His best mate lives at the end of the road but he will phone me to come and pick him up." She adds: "The older ones behave like this and the younger ones copy them. If that continues then we will never make this place any better, that's why we wanted this curfew."

At 8.45pm, four youths walk around the corner, engaged in an aggressive exchange with another group across the road. "Yeah? Come here and say that," one of them shouts at his rival. "I'll kick your head in."

One girl, Abbey, 15, said that she and her friends weren't doing anything wrong. "We drink lager, Carlsberg usually, and just get drunk. The boys drink about eight cans, but I'll be pissed after four." Asked if they would be sticking to the curfew, Andrew Knowles, also 15, shot back a glare. "Listen, mate, I ain't gonna be going home at 9 o'clock. I'll stay outside till when I like. If the police try to make me I'll just tell them I'm not being treated like a little kid."

Bravado, sure – but his tactic may work. That's because the curfew, is voluntary for parents. If the youngster is continually out late with no good reason, the police antisocial behaviour team or even social services will get involved.

Damien Faulkner, 16, thought the money could be better spent "on stuff for us to do. They could give us a youth centre or something."

Many of the young people out in Redruth believed they were being victimised – not an opinion shared by their elders. Just after 9pm, a woman shouted out of the window of a passing car: "Enjoy it while it lasts." A barrage of abuse followed the vehicle down the lane.

Famous for copper – and Kristin Scott Thomas

A recently erected bronze statue of a Cornish miner hints at what Redruth is traditionally known for, but tin and copper is not all the town has given to the world.

Famous sons and daughters of the parish include Mick Fleetwood, the drummer and co-founder of Fleetwood Mac, and the actress Kristin Scott Thomas, whose credits include The English Patient and, on stage, The Seagull.

The former newsreader Angela Rippon was also born in the town, while the Rugby World Cup winner and ex-England captain Phil Vickery played rugby for Redruth RFC.

The town's name was originally Rhyd-druth. It is said to derive from the river running through it, which was so discoloured from tin and copper that it ran red. In the Cornish language rhyd equates to river while druth means red.

Local lore suggests that no child baptised with water from the river would ever be hanged.