Spate of sex attacks raises alarm in town invaded by revellers

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Wild cackling erupts from a posse of 15 girls in stilettos and nuns' habits, brandishing a four-foot plastic penis as they lurch towards the late-opening karaoke bar in the town centre.

Wild cackling erupts from a posse of 15 girls in stilettos and nuns' habits, brandishing a four-foot plastic penis as they lurch towards the late-opening karaoke bar in the town centre.

It's Friday night in Tenby, a small coastal resort in Pembrokeshire once known for its pretty castles, winding stone streets and cream teas. Now each weekend, the town's 5,300 mainly elderly inhabitants put up with its transformation from upmarket bucket-and-spade resort to Bacchanalian oasis for an orgy of hen and stag parties.

Annoyance at the inconvenience turned to worry last week when Dyfed-Powys Police announced a rise in sexual assaults and issued a warning over the alcohol excesses of weekend visitors. They also arrested 11 men in connection with a serious sexual assault on a 17-year-old girl.

Tenby has enjoyed the economic benefits of soaring numbers of young tourists after being named runner-up in a search for the best stag-night destination by Maxim, a magazine aimed at young men, two years ago. But locals are beginning to fear that the 48-hour party people who arrive by the busload will turn their town into Britain's equivalent of Faliraki, the resort on Rhodes currently suffering the effects of hedonistic mass tourism.

Tenby police have enlisted the help of special constables from the county force in an effort at damage limitation. Chief Inspector Roger Hughes, the officer responsible for policing operations in Pembrokeshire, said the town had seen an upward spiral of anti-social behaviour including violence, rowdiness and alcoholic excess.

"We have recently had to deal with increased levels of public disorder and other criminal behaviour," he said. "While the vast majority of those coming to Tenby are well behaved, the sometimes irresponsible consumption of alcohol leads to offences being committed, including sexual assaults, which are often committed by people not resident in the area.''

A despairing hotelier in Victoria Street, which is lined with cut-price guest houses filled with revellers, feels his home town and business are under siege. "I've advertised the fact that I am not prepared to have groups staying in my hotel, which means turning away business. I just turned away six men who wanted to stay for a few days even though I'm completely empty tonight. That's £1,000 I have lost but I have to draw a line somewhere because these groups are so badly behaved,'' he said. "The previous owner was running the hotel on hen and stag parties and I've been told some people were seen trying to get in with a chainsaw. The locals feel pushed out. It's like Tenby becomes Ibiza for two nights a week.''

Local industries are not alone in their despair at seeing the town's Jekyll and Hyde identity crisis. Roger and Pat Taberner, who have visited the town for 34 years, feel its tone is changing. Sitting in the near-empty rugby club only hours before the masses descend, they anticipate the bar will be throbbing with drunken revellers in outrageous fancy dress.

"They come dressed as nurses and clowns and I know they are just out for fun but why pick Tenby? It's not exactly Blackpool,'' said Mrs Taberner, 59, who lives in Leicestershire.

Mr Taberner, 62, added: "It's not the same town on Fridays and Saturdays. I think it would be a good idea to limit the crowds who come for a pre-wedding celebration, but it would be hard to monitor.''

Tenby is a town that depends on tourism – the population increases sixfold in the summer season – and many businesses have come to rely on the customers who cause so much distress.

Bev Rees-Morgan, 36, a restaurateur from the neighbouring town of Sandersfoot, takes a pragmatic view and talks about the Catch-22 situation that many businesses are stuck in. "Beggars can't be choosers," she says, "and Wales needs the money. We have to find a way to control the hens and stags."

Glen Smith, a doorman at the Three Mariners pub, which has one of the town's few late licences, said: "I see girls and boys having harmless fun, with girls wearing army fatigues, condom caps and learner plates. There's nothing offensive about a group of women dressed in wetsuits and flippers, they're not suddenly dangerous.''

Andrew Jones, 25, from Merthyr Tydfil, drinking at the Lifeboat Tavern, is an ardent fan of the stag culture. "Us stags get together," he said, "we stay in a caravan park, we get laid and we go home. Easy."