Hard-hitting powers to crackdown in Newton Abbot were imposed last year.
Last year, Newton Abbot was gripped by gang culture. A gang of up to 30 troublesome youths were operating across the town, with frequent outbreaks of anti-social behaviour and criminal damage.
The gang’s favourite haunts were around the Asda superstore, Victoria Gardens, and the Market Walk shopping centre, they were well organised and structured and police believed that were adults higher up the line supplying drugs to them to deal.
But hard-hitting powers to crackdown on the gang making life hell for people in Newton Abbot were imposed last year.
In September 2018, Devon and Cornwall Police issued adult and youth civil gang injunctions against 11 individuals as part of Operation Turf.
It was the first time that this civil legislation has been used within Devon and Cornwall after concerns of gang related behaviour were raised by local residents and partner agencies in Newton Abbot, with the aim is to protect those involved and deter the behaviour.
Some of the youths have been excluded for 12 months from Newton Abbot Asda, Victoria Gardens and Market Walk, while other teens were told they cannot go into any area of Newton Abbot.
Others are banned from associating with a larger number of named teenagers under penalty of arrest, and they also cannot issue threats over social media in groups of three or more.
The gang members also face arrest for antisocial behaviour or harassment and are banned from covering their faces in a public place.
Devon and Cornwall Police had the power to arrest any of the youths who break the injunctions.
But 12 months on, have the injunctions worked? Speaking to local businesses, residents, councillors and the police, the answer seems to suggest that they have.
Over the last 12 months, crime figures for Newton Abbot have showed a 4.2% reduction in violence with injury, 15.8% reduction in robbery, 9.8% reduction in criminal damage, 12.4% reduction in public order offences and 19.5% reduction in possession of weapons.
And while a number of the injunctions have expired, Superintendent Jez Capey said: “Following a review it is apparent that they have predominantly been very effective.
“The injunctions form one part of a much wider piece of work, alongside partner agencies, to safeguard those involved, engage them in positive activities and prevent the escalation of gang related activity in the town. This remains an ongoing piece of work across Newton Abbot and the wider South Devon area.”
The gang’s favourite haunts were around the Asda superstore, Victoria Gardens, and the Market Walk shopping centre, and one business owner in the area who had run into problems with the gang said that while they did have a lot of issues with them, the problems now seem to be under control.
Not wishing to give their name for fear of any reprisals, they said that while there used to be around 30-40 kids hanging around, the numbers have dropped to no more than single figures and they aren’t causing problems at the moment.
They said: “When we opened up around 18 months ago, there were the problems from the start but in the last few months, lots of them have dispersed to somewhere else. If they rear up again though it is going to be a bit of a nightmare.
“It took a while for them to go through the courts and get the injunctions, but it seems to have solved the problem. There were lots of issues and when you tried to approach them, they would push back and as a result we had a few issues here.
“But the main ringleader was tagged and put through the courts and banned from the area, and that seemed to have helped, as when he was banned, lots of them followed and dispersed to someone else.
“We have no problem with kids hanging around as long as they aren’t causing any problems. If they leave us alone then we’ll leave them alone.”
Another of the business affected by the gang’s behaviour was the Newton Abbot Community Transport Association, whose offices are based in the Sherborne Road multi-storey car park.
Kay Yendall, the charity’s manager, said that over the last year, things have definitely changed for the better and the main troublemakers seem to have vanished.
She said: “There are still a few who are hanging around here, but they are not as bad and things have changed for the better. There was a bit of vandalism to our buses but we have had no major issues recently and the trouble has definitely quietened down.
“Of course, over the summer months, there are other places to go and kids don’t need to be hanging around a car park, so see what happens in the winter.
“Some of them were quiet approachable and if they were kicking a football into the wall when we were trying to work and we spoke to them, they apologised, moved on and came back when we were finished. Others though were more awkward to deal with.”
The areas were some of the gang were hanging around is covered by the town’s CCTV system, and Kay said that praise needed to be given to the Newton Abbot Security Trust, who manages CCTV and whose staff work tirelessly with the local police, to ensure that Newton Abbot is a safe place.
She said: “Having the CCTV helps as the kids know if they do something they can be caught. It is there and if there any issues that we spot, we tend to call them first and then get them to call the police who can intervene and move them on.”
Sally Henley, the Newton Abbot town development manager, also praised the Newton Abbot Security Trust for helping to keep the town safe, and said that the gang injunctions have been a success.
She said: “We are fortunate in Newton Abbot in that local authorities, agencies working with young people, the police and local groups have a history of working really closely together to develop strategies which protect our town. In our regular communications with local police we know that they have taken a robust approach to instances of youth anti-social behaviour and I’m aware that the individual gang injunctions have been extremely successful.’’
Leader of Teignbridge District Council, Cllr Gordon Hook, said that his impression was that it had been an extremely successful operation.
He said: “There were one or two breaches of the order, but nothing particularly serious, and it seems to have settled down and been obeyed.
“There appears to have been a big step change in the behaviour of the individuals which is encouraging. Sometimes when you solve one problem like this and the youngsters start to grow up, others can come through with their own problems, but this doesn’t appear to have happened.
“The situation seems to be under control and this is down to the great work of the officers, both in the council and the police, who have overseen it, and I and the town are very grateful for the work that they have done. The tensions that seemed to be around have been abated, which is a good thing.”
He added: “It would be a fool who would predict the prospects for the future, but at the moment, things are looking good that the scale of the problems won’t come up again. We are optimistic and we have to be encouraged about what has happened.
“We hope that these gang injunctions won’t have to be used again but it is known to work and can tackle the problems if they do.”
Barry Seager, the council’s anti-social behaviour officer, said that while there was a problem with gang behaviour, the disassociation order has helped to split up the groups and reduced the levels of anti-social behaviour in Newton Abbot.
He said: “There are always a few who try and push the boundaries and who are kids being kids, but when it comes to gangs, we have got on top of it. We don’t get the feeling that the problems are set to rear their head again, and I hope I’m not wrong, but the dealings have been really successful and if it did come back then we know that the injunctions works and we can use them again.”
Mr Seager added that prevention is a key thing and that the council is working with and to support the police to help turn young people away from gangs and youth violence in Devon.
One initiative is the Turning Corners Project team creates a programme of activities and sport for young people referred by agencies including the police, schools and social services.
The initiative was set up with a £500,000 grant from the Home Office last year which is designed to identify, divert and safeguard children and young people under the age of 18 at risk of criminal exploitation.
The team uses a process called the Youth Exploitation Tracker Assessment developed by the Metropolitan Police in London.
The region’s Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez says 114 young people had been assessed under the Turning Corners scheme by the end of August.
A report to the September Police and Crime Panel meeting, explaining the project, said: “A core part of the project has been to better understand the young people involved in these activities and to design appropriate interventions to reduce levels of risk and harm in the community and prevent the further escalation of these behaviours.”
Ms Hernandez’s report added: “The project team have adapted that tool and it is being used to understand the risks, behaviours and needs of individual young people in the area who are referred to the project by the police, schools, social services or other agencies.
“This assessment then enables the project team to identify appropriate interventions for that individual to manage those risks.
“Following these assessments tailored individual plans are put in place with diversionary activities and sports led by specialist youth workers.”
She added: “This is the first time Devon and Cornwall Police has used civil legislation to bring down a gang of young people who were terrorising. It sends out a message to young people, and to parents, that police will look at all available methods to make our communities safer for the majority.”