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Britain's VERY thin blue line: The Lake District town where police officers are so stretched that they allow security guards to handcuff thugs

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 04/02/2019 David Jones for the Daily Mail

Yesterday, four men appeared before South Cumbria magistrates for a plethora of offences (pictured: Loughrigg Tarn - a small, natural lake in the Lake District, Cumbria) © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Yesterday, four men appeared before South Cumbria magistrates for a plethora of offences (pictured: Loughrigg Tarn - a small, natural lake in the Lake District, Cumbria) Another weekend and another ugly outbreak of violence in the Lake District — supposedly one of the last remaining corners of peace and tranquillity in ‘Wild West Britain’.

Yesterday, four men appeared before South Cumbria magistrates for a plethora of offences alleged to have been committed on Friday night and in the early hours of Saturday in Bowness, a scenic town on the shores of Windermere.

One of the men, aged 29, was accused of assaulting four police constables, one of whom required hospital treatment. Two other men were said to have made racially or religiously aggravated violent threats towards a Muslim who crossed their path. A fourth was charged with common assault.

Chief Inspector Martin Loebell, of Cumbria Police, is understandably eager to stress the force’s effectiveness in having had sufficient officers on the spot to arrest the suspects. Yet, as he readily acknowledged, Bowness is not usually so well-policed.


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Extra officers had been deployed there at the weekend ‘to offer reassurance to the public that we haven’t withdrawn policing’, he said, following an extraordinary story in the Mail last week. In a depressing indication of the way violent crime and police shortages now blight every corner of the country, we revealed how a security firm tasked with maintaining order in 30 Lake District pubs and nightclubs had issued its doormen with handcuffs to detain unruly revellers.

Company boss Lyndon Montgomery gave two reasons for equipping his employees in this way. First, he said, their job was becoming ever more dangerous, with seven attacks on staff in the past 12 months. Secondly, cutbacks in police resources meant it was taking officers far longer to respond to his doormen’s calls for help.

Earlier this month, burly Mr Montgomery, 42, used handcuffs to restrain an aggressive drunk in his mid-30s who refused to leave a Bowness nightclub. He described how he unclipped a set of black metal handcuffs from his belt and — with the help of a colleague — wrestled the unwitting ‘prisoner’s’ arms behind his back and clamped his wrists, as if in a scene from a Western saloon-bar.

Mr Montgomery insists that with no police officers on hand to assist him that night, it was the best way of defusing a potentially dangerous incident.

a person wearing a wet suit standing on a sidewalk: Lyndon Montgomery, 42, used handcuffs to restrain an aggressive drunk in his mid-30s © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Lyndon Montgomery, 42, used handcuffs to restrain an aggressive drunk in his mid-30s

‘The old-fashioned way would have been to force him to the floor and try to hold him down until the police arrived, but this is much more efficient and far safer — both for us and for the person we are restraining,’ he told me.

Perhaps he is right. This week, however, when the Daily Mail revealed that staff working for his security company, LRM, now routinely carry manacles and have used them three times since last November, there was widespread consternation.

Though it is not unlawful for a civilian to handcuff someone when making a legitimate citizen’s arrest, the area’s MP, Tim Farron, told me he was ‘saddened and worried’ by the development, saying he thought it ‘dangerous’ for them to be used by anyone but police officers.

Others I met in the Lake District shared his concern. ‘What will happen if someone dies while these bouncers are cuffing them?’ asked Barrow taxi-driver Steve Duke, 58. ‘It could easily happen if they are restrained the wrong way.’

Mr Montgomery says the Lake District is not immune from the wave of violent disorder sweeping Britain (stock image) © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Mr Montgomery says the Lake District is not immune from the wave of violent disorder sweeping Britain (stock image)

One saw his point. Yet, of course, the truly shocking aspect of this is not how these manacles are being used, it is where. That pub doormen deem them to be necessary in the Lake District — a supposedly safe haven where people retire to escape more dangerous cities and towns — only increases the sense of disquiet.

After all, the Lake District is where the poet William Wordsworth was mesmerised by a host of golden daffodils as he wandered ‘lonely as a cloud’ along Ullswater, and where JMW Turner and Ruskin painted some of their finest works. A natural wonderland, the area attracts 16 million tourists a year.

As I watched hoary-breathed trippers marvelling at the snow-clad hills and mountains and browsing the arty shops of Bowness, it was hard to imagine why anyone might need to be shackled here.

But Mr Montgomery says the Lake District is not immune from the wave of violent disorder sweeping Britain. At weekends, when there is an influx of outsiders, some fuelled by strong drink and drugs, the gentle ambience can quickly change — and all too often, the police aren’t on hand to deal with it.

In recent months, his staff manager, Karl Newton, has been seriously assaulted twice, suffering a fracture to the roof of his mouth and requiring £16,000 of dental surgery.

He believes it makes sense for eight of the 36 security guards employed by his firm to carry handcuffs (costing £100 a pair) and he has them trained in their use. Before doing so, Mr Montgomery says, he consulted Cumbria Police and the Security Industry Association.

They will meet again in April to review their use and, if the scheme is considered a success, he will supply them to all his staff.

Would this be justified? Well, quite clearly Cumbria Police has suffered from cuts, like every other force in the country. In 2009, the county’s officer strength was 1,284; last year it was 1,095, according to Home Office figures. Meanwhile, since 2011, 18 of its police stations have closed. In South Lakeland, where Mr Montgomery’s company largely operates, police now cover an area the size of Greater London from just two main hubs in Kendal and Barrow. Nor does it help that travel is made difficult by tortuous and sometimes icy roads over mountains and round lakes.

Mr Montgomery claims it can take 20 minutes for police to come to the aid of his doormen, and that on one occasion, they took 40 minutes — a perilously long time to detain a belligerent drunk.

Cumbria Police strongly disputes this. Having checked the logs of 14 occasions when LRM called for its assistance, it says the average response time was 13 minutes and within accepted guidelines.

Whatever the statistics show, investigating the background to this vexed affair, one finds it symptomatic of broader concerns about life in the Lake District, with its 100,000 population sparsely distributed. It is a story that will strike a chord with others living in under-resourced rural areas.

For it is not only the police service that has been diluted. Last week, the local paper, the Westmorland Gazette, reported that three more High Street banks are to close in the Lakes, leaving some residents 13 miles from their nearest branch.

The mountain rescue service has been seriously depleted; the A&E department at Kendal’s hospital has been downgraded so that many patients must go to Lancaster, which is 20 miles away; fire stations, bus services, 30 post offices and public toilets have all been consigned to history.

The overall impression is one of pastoral decline on a scale not seen since Oliver Goldsmith mourned the abandonment of the countryside in his epic poem, The Deserted Village, almost 250 years ago.

Yet with city criminals increasingly targeting rural towns and villages, believing their remoteness makes for easier pickings, the loss of police resources is the most pressing issue. Twenty-two people were recently charged following a police swoop on alleged ‘County Lines’ drug-dealers who penetrated into Cumbria, and the past few days have seen a ram-raid on a village shop’s cash machine and a burglary at a petrol station.

Indeed, with a 21 per cent upsurge in crime across Cumbria, the county’s police and crime panel has just agreed to raise the council tax by 10 per cent to keep 25 officers whose jobs would otherwise have been axed, and recruit another 20.

Police and Crime Commissioner Peter McCall told the meeting that without the rise, there would be ‘a reduction in service which I am not prepared to countenance’. Many, though, would say the service has already been fatally reduced.

Windermere Police Station is manned by a receptionist between the hours of 9am and 1pm. The old magistrates’ court next door closed down in 2000. Outside, Sue, a 69-year-old local, lamented the days when ‘Bobbies strolled round town in pairs’, defying anyone to disturb the bucolic idyll. ‘You hardly see them at all now,’ she said.

Her husband once worked as a pub doorman in the town and she says that, back then, he would not have needed handcuffs. ‘They sorted things out with a firm word and their own strength,’ she said.

In the shops, pubs and cafes, other people bemoaned the lack of visible policing.

a person standing posing for the camera: Andrew Millray (right), 45, says there has been a ‘massive’ change in recent years (pictured left: His niece, Kitty Levene, 20) © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Andrew Millray (right), 45, says there has been a ‘massive’ change in recent years (pictured left: His niece, Kitty Levene, 20)

Andrew Millray, 45, who doubles as manager of the amusement arcade on Bowness promenade and watch-manager of the fire station, has lived in the town all his life and says there has been a ‘massive’ change in recent years.

Once, officers stationed nearby could be there within seconds when he had a problem customer, but recently, when he caught a youth trying to steal from a slot-machine, he had to hold him for 25 minutes before the police arrived.

His niece, Kitty Levene, 20, who also works in the arcade, says it took the police an hour to respond to her call for help in trying to eject an unruly tourist.

‘By the time they got here, he’d gone,’ she said.

According to David Pattinson, 51, who runs a separate security firm, the shortage of police officers in Ulverston was so acute on the weekend prior to Christmas, when the market town thronged with festive drinkers, that several pubs clubbed together to hire four of his security guards.

He claims to have provided ‘a watered-down police force, doing the sort of stuff the old-style coppers did — approaching people and asking if they were having a good time, helping them into taxis to get home safely if they were drunk, getting them to pick up bottles and stopping anti-social behaviour in the town centre’.

Since they wore an all-black uniform and peaked caps with ‘Security’ written on them, some might have mistaken them for police officers from a distance, he says. He added that his team had been praised by local councillors and business people, and he expected them to be asked back during busy periods.

‘I think this is the future of keeping public order,’ added Mr Pattinson, blaming Tony Blair for starting the rot by replacing police officers with police community support officers in the early 2000s. Cumbria Police insist Mr Pattinson’s staff were not asked to patrol the streets, but were brought in by the pubs to augment security during a busy period.

However, Lib Dem MP Tim Farron is in no doubt the force is undermanned. He’s been on patrol with the police several times, and while he is at pains to stress his admiration for their dedication and professionalism, he paints the picture of a blue line stretched gossamer-thin by cutbacks.

Having seen the duty roster at Kendal Police Station, he says there are never more than eight front-line officers, and often six, to cover a vast area stretching from Windermere to the Yorkshire Dales. When the police disputed this figure this week, he accused them of being ‘disingenuous’.

‘It is true our community is relatively safe and secure,’ Mr Farron told me. ‘The problem is that when something does happen, you have to wait a long time for the police to come.’ He cites a case brought to his attention by a woman police officer. Called to a burglary in a remote area of the Dales, she arrived to find the culprits still inside and the family upstairs.

Her sense of duty told her to confront the gang, but as she was alone and the nearest back-up was 35 minutes away, she knew she would be placing herself in danger, so she stood by and they escaped.

‘This is not to criticise her,’ said Mr Farron. ‘That’s the judgment she had to make. She probably made a very wise choice. But she still faces that feeling of guilt.’

Martin Plummer, chair of Cumbria Police Federation, would doubtless empathise. ‘In rural areas like Cumbria, all the village police stations have been sold off, and in some cases the nearest police station is now a 40-minute drive away. People pay their council tax [for] policing but then pay a private security company. That makes me very sad.’

Stoically, one of the men charged with making best use of Cumbria’s resources, Superintendent Matt Pearman, takes a more upbeat view. He points to the county’s ‘good’ force inspection rating and favourable crime detection rate.

‘If you were to offer me another 100 police officers, would we be able to do more? Yes, we would,’ he told me. ‘But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing a good job of protecting the public. It is still a comparatively safe place to live and visit.’

As for the use of handcuffs, he stressed that the security company is using them of its own volition and advised members of the public not to follow suit.

Yet with police struggling to maintain law and order, how long before their use by private citizens becomes commonplace? Come that dreaded day, we will truly be living in Wild West Britain.

Additional reporting: Eleanor Hayward


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