Cornwall’s worst town for crime after its summer crisis

Residents and business owners in St Austell are reporting mixed results following the culmination of a six-week programme to clamp down on escalating antisocial behaviour in the town centre.

It was back in July when Cornwall’s largest town found itself thrust into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Public dissatisfaction in the town spilled over amid concerns over the drug issues and antisocial behaviour which have blighted the town in recent years.

Content was posted on social media showing people taking and dealing drugs in the streets in broad daylight.

There were reports of groups congregating and fighting, assaults, shoplifting and people defecating in public places, and, most shockingly of all, a number of town centre shops were forced to lock customers inside for their protection.

At the same time, police figures revealed that St Austell has suffered from more crime than any other area in Cornwall over the past 12 months.

A drug user photographed in the town

When Cornwall Live visited the town in August, hotelier and publican Ameena Williams reported that the bad behaviour over the past two years has been the worst she has experienced in her 30 years of working in the town.

While the town is no stranger to this type of behaviour and criminality, residents said the pandemic had heightened the issues.

After a week of mayhem in late July, locals decided enough was enough. A petition launched by one St Austell resident, Jodie Richards, gathered thousands of signatures in just a few days.

The 27-year-old said she wanted to spark Cornwall Council, the police, MP Steve Double and the agencies involved in helping addicts into action, and rid her hometown of its “heroin problem” by helping those who needed support.

St Austell town centre

Having grown up in St Austell, Jodie recalled her own childhood when she and her friends would spend endless hours hanging out in town. But she said this would no longer be possible.

Mr Double, who is of the opinion that Cornwall Council had placed disproportionately more people who are homeless and have specialist needs in St Austell than any other town in Cornwall – something which the authority has since disputed – called an urgent meeting with council officers and police.

A six-week plan was subsequently drawn up by the Safer Cornwall Partnership to tackle the problems. There was a concerted effort to increase police support in the town, with high-visibility patrols and the introduction of a dedicated neighbourhood officer for the town centre.

Police in St Austell town centre

Two months on, and some residents and business owners are reporting that the issues have returned to the town’s streets.

“It was better due to the police presence but unfortunately this was only a six-week programme,” one resident said. “As soon as that stopped the problem will start again. They need to stop temporarily putting a plaster on the problem and find a long-term solution.”

Others have claimed to have seen street drinkers and drug users congregating along Fore Street and in the grounds of Holy Trinity Church on Church Street, a spot which has become associated with alcohol and drug related antisocial behaviour.

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“In town I saw two drunk or drugged men in Fore Street shouting and being a nuisance without a shirt on,” another resident said. “Police turned up with one dealing with the two of them. Both were being very threatening to the policeman, telling him he will be dead tonight. There are lots of holiday makers in the town, it’s not good.”

Yet others, including town mayor Tim Styles, are reporting vast improvements.

Mr Styles said the situation is “considerably better than it was”, although he said he was aware of some incidents of antisocial behaviour incidents in recent days, which have been reported to the police and the Safer Cornwall Partnership.

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“We are monitoring the situation and are determined not to let the position revert to how it was earlier in the year,” he added.

Several others agreed with Mr Styles, including one person who works on Fore Street.

“It’s improved so much,” she said.

Another resident added: “It’s been much better. Yes, there will always be problems. We do have to keep reporting the issues though, it takes work.”

A plea has been made to the public to report incidents of drug misuse and antisocial behaviour in St Austell through official channels and not use social media.

If you see someone sleeping rough you can contact Streetlink via www.streetlink.org.uk or 0300 500 0914 (or 999 if they need urgent medical assistance). Individuals sleeping rough can contact the Cornwall Housing Options Team on 0300 1234 161 or drop into an Information Service (formerly called One Stop Shop)

If people experience anti-social behaviour, email 101@dc.police.uk or call 101 for non-emergencies and in an emergency call 999.

If you have information about a crime you can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

For concerns about rubbish such as glass and needles on the street, call Cornwall Council Refuse and Recycling on 0300 1234 141 or email refuseandrecycling@cornwall.gov.uk

Cornwall Live