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SUN Campaign History - Jun 1998

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Police not interested in implementing National Trust management decisions

Useful and constructive meeting with Dorset Police

On Tuesday, June 2nd 1998, your Chairman and Secretary had a meeting with Inspector Downer and PC Norton at Swanage Police Station. Inspector Downer is the officer in charge of policing the area, which includes Studland Bay, and PC Norton is the Studland Beat Officer. The meeting was amicable and various issues were discussed in depth.

Reported offences dropped to 3 per month

We acknowledged that Ms Downer's initiative in increasing uniformed patrols had raised the police profile, reassuring beach users and deterring wrongdoers - as was clearly demonstrated by the dramatic reduction in reported offences, of all kinds, from 140 in 1996 to just 40 in 1997 - and we expressed the hope that this visible policing would continue. The Inspector was happy to assure us that this was the case and that, subject to other demands on her limited manpower, uniformed police officers would patrol the ENTIRE beach and dunes area at frequent intervals throughout the summer.

Overt sexual activity by heterosexuals ignored whilst oppressive and intimidatory attention given to gay men

We discussed at length the perception, conveyed to us by a great many members both hetero and homosexual, that overt heterosexual activity was widely ignored by the police and National Trust wardens, whilst that small area popular with gay men was subjected to oppressive and intimidatory attention by both bodies. Both officers asserted that this was not the impression they wished to give; we suggested that the appearance of heterosexuals at Wareham Magistrates' Court, charged with indecent behaviour, might help to bolster this assertion, and we were given an undertaking that such behaviour, if witnessed, would indeed result in prosecution.

Irregular uniformed police patrols

We discussed the problem of "lurkers" and other pests and the police said they were aware of the problem and took on board our suggestion that a more visible on-foot police presence along the front of the dunes might act as a deterrent. They pointed out, though, that if the nuisance element saw uniformed police officers they would desist from their anti-social behaviour until the police had gone; we countered with the suggestion that the knowledge that the police might be there would act as a deterrent to all but the most persistent pests. In this respect, the idea of irregular patrols - which Inspector Downer pointed out was all she could guarantee, due to manpower constraints - was a better one than regular, timed visits.

Plain clothes surveillance to be widened

The Inspector confirmed that Vice Squad officers from Bournemouth would occasionally visit the beach for plain clothes surveillance, and agreed that she would suggest to them that their patrols should be widened - hitherto, as gay SUN members will be aware, their activities have been exclusively concentrated on the very small area popular with gay men.

Those of us who are council tax payers take the view that the Vice Squad's activities at Studland are not a cost-effective use of police resources nor do they project a positive image of policing.

Plain clothes surveillance - on the down side...

The officer in charge of the squad admitted in a newspaper interview a while ago that his officers "allow their personal views to affect the performance of their duties" - in other words, they fail to conform to their Oath of Attestation (which, in my opinion, means they should not still be police officers).

Plain clothes surveillance - on the plus side...

On the plus side, PC Norton told us that he personally vets uniformed officers for beach and dune patrols and will not accept any officers displaying obvious prejudice against nudists or homosexuals.

The National Trust have "no say in the allocation of police resources".

On the question of who dictates where and when the police patrol, Inspector Downer was adamant that she determines where and when patrols are deployed - she assured us forcefully that the National Trust has no say in the allocation of police resources.

Contrary to appearances, we are advised that the police are not National Trust puppets.

Police not interested in implementing National Trust management decisions

Furthermore, the police are not interested in implementing National Trust management decisions - they may advise you that the National Trust would like you to remain within the red posts, but unless an offence is being or is likely to be committed they will not take any further action.

No repeat of mounted police trampling through dunes

The Inspector also assured us that there would be no repetition of the infamous mounted police episode of 1984. (Long-term users of the Bay will recall that mounted officers were shipped down from Bristol - Dorset Constabulary having no mounted section -at phenomenal expense to trample through the dunes harassing nudists. How much this fiasco actually cost in cash terms has never been revealed, although the cost in respect for the police must have been monumental.)

Reporting offences... SUN / Police liaison

We discussed the question of reporting offences at some length. Whilst suggesting that in the first instance the matter should be brought to the attention of a National Trust warden, both officers accepted our points that there are frequently no wardens around and that there exists a deep mistrust of National Trust employees. We were assured that in case of emergency it would be perfectly in order to dial 999 at once and in the case of lesser matters where we felt the police ought to be involved, we could contact the police control room on 01929 482727.

For our part, we offered to act as a liaison between the police and our members: the Inspector was quite willing to arrange a formal meeting such as this one at any time, subject to the exigencies of the police service, and both officers were happy to liaise with us on an informal basis on the beach - for example, if they have reports of a persistent offender, they will pass the details to us and we will pass the word around amongst the membership and, if we have concerns, we can approach them on the beach whether they are on foot or in their quad bike.

Speeding National Trust vehicles

We raised the question of speeding National Trust vehicles on the beach and through the dune paths. The police suggested that it might be that their widespread duties required them to proceed at high speed: we pointed out that the police patrols - whose time is surely more valuable than that of National Trust casual labourers - did not seem to find it necessary to drive at much more than walking pace, for which we commended them. In a slightly humorous exchange, PC Norton said that the last thing the police wanted to do was to run over a sunbather; we riposted that it was a pity the National Trust seemed not to share this concern. We have, of course, raised the question of speeding National Trust vehicles with the National Trust, and it remains to be seen whether our concerns in this respect will be heeded.

Police Helicopter

Inspector Downer also explained the use of the helicopter last year, which caused so much hassle and gained about thirty new SUN members (!). It appears that a child had been reported as lost; the helicopter happened to be in use in the Boscombe area, and was quickly diverted to search for the missing child, being a far more effective method of searching than foot patrols. We may expect more of the same if children go missing this year - Dorset Police now have their own helicopter. We suggest you invest in a djellabah and shemag to combat the sandstorms: it works well for the Bedouin.

Summary... useful and constructive

All in all, the meeting - which lasted over an hour - seemed to be useful and constructive, with none of the aggression or tension we have experienced in our liaison meetings with the National Trust. We felt that we had begun to build bridges, and that the police had been able to see for themselves that we are not the demons we are claimed by others to be. No doubt there will be future meetings both formal and informal, but for the immediate future we feel that the informal is the best basis to continue improving our relationship with the police.

So if you see them, say hello, talk to them, air your concerns and listen to theirs. PC385 Pete Norton is the beat bobby for Studland, and has been for twenty years so he knows the area fairly well; other officers may not be so familiar, but we are assured they will be equally helpful. 

With luck, and the willingness that appears to exist on both sides, perhaps we can get away from the confrontational aspect and start working with the police to make Studland a better and safer place for everyone.


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