Foreign students in Bath 'easy target for attack'

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(First Edition)

FOREIGN students visiting the Georgian city of Bath are falling prey to muggers who view them as an easy target.

In the last fortnight four foreign students have been chased and assaulted in the city, where thousands arrive each year as tourists or to attend language schools.

For many, their first pep talk on arrival is not about the attractions of the city but the dangers of walking alone. Rebecca Merriam, director of Quest, a student tour operator, said: 'We have to start by putting them on edge. It is not good for the marketing or image of the city.'

In the recent attacks, a 15-year-old German boy was kicked in the groin and forced to hand over pounds 25 to two young assailants; a 16-year-old Spaniard needed six stitches in his lip when he was punched at the bus station; a female student had her handbag snatched, and an Italian teenager was robbed of pounds 50.

Fabian, a 17-year-old Italian student, was attacked on his first night in the city. With a group of friends he was threatened at knifepoint, abused and pushed.

'There were about 10 boys and they had cans of beer and they had been drinking. I was worried they would want to fight with us. Bath is a very nice city but those boys are not very nice. I am worried that we may meet them again,' he said.

Florence, 17, said: 'Those boys are dangerous for everybody; people living in Bath as well as foreign visitors. Bath is wonderful, it is sad that this happened. We want to enjoy our holiday.'

The police and Bath City Council are distributing leaflets in four languages, warning of the danger and giving advice such as to always walk in pairs and avoid taking too much money out at night. A police spokesman said: 'It is very sad that the lasting impression some foreign students might have of this city is being assaulted for no apparent reason.'

Mrs Merriam said students were now chaperoned all the time because of the risk of attack. A full programme is provided so they are never at a loose end and events such as discos are confined to foreign visitors.

She said: 'If we let the English into the disco it would end up with a fight. We tried it and there was a problem. As a policy the students don't spend any time on their own because of the dangers.'

Because of the recent assaults host families have been asked to ensure the students are always collected from venues. Mrs Merriam said: 'It is sad that Bath has this reputation. Word gets around, and at many of the trade shows the city is taboo as a destination.'