Police not interested in implementing National Trust
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
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 -
assured us forcefully that the National Trust has no say in the allocation of police
Contrary to appearances, we are advised that the police are not National
Police not interested in implementing National Trust
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
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
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
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.
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.