CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

‘Private police’ to tackle raves on Primrose Hill?

Residents describe the situation as "torture"

05 November, 2020 — By Bronwen Weatherby

The reputation of Primrose Hill is at stake, say locals

THE possibility of bringing in private police patrols has been openly suggested in a bid to end noisy lockdown parties on Primrose Hill.

The Royal Parks has been urged to act after another four nights of disturbances including a sound-system rave on Halloween, just hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson had announced a new national lockdown.

Primrose Hill, which is open 24 hours a day, has become the source of complaints from tormented residents living nearby.

It is also an area of concern for police trying to break up groups during the Covid-19 pandemic. On Saturday evening officers faced the challenge of dispersing up to 1,000 people who gathered inside the disused Hampstead police station for a party that flouted the latest coronavirus restrictions.

Primrose Hill, however, has been at the centre of calls for action all summer and there has been a debate over whether gates should be installed.

This measure was deemed too expensive and unlikely to work, but ward councillor Lazzaro Pietragnoli said: “Royal Parks and the police should demonstrate that they are working proactively to stop the anti-social behaviour and this inappropriate and illegal use of the hill.”

He said patrols that were stepped up in response to the unlicensed music events and reports of drug dealing had subsided.

Ward Cllr Lazzaro Pietragnoli

“Things are getting out of hand again, so we need to know now what other actions are planned to address this, now endemic, problem in the long term,” said Cllr Pietragnoli, a former mayor of Camden.

“Otherwise, I am afraid the request for gates – or even worse private policing – are going to be the only reasonable solution.”

On Tuesday Cllr Pietragnoli said he attended a Royal Parks “stakeholders’ meeting”, adding: “My impression is that they are underestimating the problem. It’s not just anti-social behaviour or a couple of fireworks going off, it’s much worse than they realise.

“I now want to find out what the council can do because, while we don’t have the responsibility over policing, we do have a duty of community safety, and I want to explore what more we can do, possibly to assist the police in some way.”

Over the weekend police and local councillors were contacted by residents about hundreds of people gathering in and around the park, with the disturbance lasting from around 9pm until 5am the next day.

Policing of the events was described by residents as “ineffective”, with one person who rang the emergency services to file a report claiming a call handler had told her that officers had attended but they were “outnumbered” and “couldn’t do anything”.

On Halloween night, large crowds were dispersed by officers but there are suggestions that some simply moved on to the police station rave in Rosslyn Hill.

“It’s a nightly torture, it’s truly terrible,” said one resident close to the park. “My husband has even moved out of the house because he can’t cope with it anymore. People just don’t realise the effect it’s having on people’s lives.

“We see police cars going up there but nothing happens, it just feels lawless out there now.”

Eleanor Sturdy, who also lives near the park and was the victim of an alleged assault after one of the music events, said: “Last weekend was particularly bad but this issue has been going on for months now and the lack of sleep is devastating to the mental health for many in the area.

“And I’d question whether allowing around 62 acres of open land to go unpatrolled at night, when they know what kind of activity is taking place there, is negligent.”

Nick Biddle, who is park manager for Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill, said: “We haven’t committed to any plans regarding gates and we don’t have any gates in storage, but we are keeping an open mind and keeping this matter under review.”

He added: “We work closely with the police to ensure the safety of visitors to the parks and to minimise disturbance to residents over the Bonfire Night period. “As with previous years, fireworks and fire lanterns are not permitted in the park for the safety of visitors and to protect the environment.”

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