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DISTURBING: The Stockport area blighted by yobs and burglaries

DISTURBING: The Stockport area blighted by yobs and burglaries

Cheadle Heath, Image: Google Street View

Cheadle Heath is a quiet, largely residential suburb of Stockport lying just two miles to the west of the town centre.

Walking through its streets on a sunny September afternoon, it seems trouble couldn’t be further away.

But a number of disturbing incidents here over the summer led to local councillors urging Andy Burnham to get a grip on crime and anti-social behaviour in the area.

In an open letter to the Greater Manchester Mayor, they complain that a spike of burglaries, and car crime –  as well as ongoing issues with off-road bikes – have met with a ‘frustrating’ response from police.

Recent weeks have seen a 40-year-old man stabbed in Birchfield Road, while just around the corner –  in Sherborne Road – a teenage boy was viciously assaulted by a gang of youths.

Nowhere is without its problems, of course, and some of the nastier crimes are said to be untypical of the area.

So were ward councillors – who also represent neighbouring Edgeley – justified in calling for targeted policing and specialist resources for the area?

Most residents seem to think so.

Brian Lund, who lives on Elm Road South, off Sherborne Road, says he has never felt as unprotected or unsafe as he does right now.

“I would agree more needs to be done – well, something needs to be done, something would be nice,” said Mr Lund.

“Recently there has been an assault down at the end of that [Sherbone) Road and a stabbing around the corner [Birchfield Road]  – lots of cars being nicked, lots of cars being stolen.

“You just don’t really feel safe, you don’t see any police.”

The 55-year-old  responded to a police leaflet that came through his door following the assault on Sherborne Road, offering photographs he felt may help with enquiries.

But he has heard nothing since.

“They never got back to me, it’s like they are not really interested, which is disappointing because we pay council tax for certain things – policing is one of them,” he said.

And while Mr Lund says he has sympathy with the police over the cuts they have had to absorb, he added: “I have never felt this unprotected or unsafe,”

“I have just had my driveway done because I don’t want my car outside, but I don’t know if it makes it any more secure to be honest.”

The energy consultancy worker believes greater police visibility could help.

“Just a police presence – any police presence – they are getting a lot of bad press at the moment. On the SK8 Facebook group they are absolutely slating them,” he said.

“I think most people have lost faith in policing completely.”

He also feels there is a lack of deterrent, with offenders given soft and ‘meaningless’ sentences if they are hauled before the courts.

“I just think there is no deterrent for bike crime, or car crime. People will steal anything these days,” he adds, noting that even two plant pots were stolen from the front of his house.

“Talk about vigilante groups is quite concerning, but it might come to that,” he says.

His views were echoed by a resident on adjacent Sherborne Road, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

“It’s bad round here,” he said.

“It’s used as a rat run. I have had cars broken into, it’s not a good area to live in.

“There was a stabbing the other day. I have teenage boys and as much as I say to them ‘come off the computer and go out’, do you really want them to if they are going to get battered?”

He acknowledges there are probably far worse places to live, but added: “ In our little sleepy suburb you shouldn’t have to live in fear, you shouldn’t have to live like that.”

Like Mr Lund, he says neighbours ‘don’t see police’ but understands cuts have made it ‘difficult’ for the force.

“For me the one thing is the crime on motorbikes is the one that’s getting worse at the moment,” he said. “Going round on motorbikes at night times and stealing people’s property – helping themselves in the early hours.”

The councillors’ letter to Mr Burnham also complains of residents having to wait ‘six minutes-plus’ on 999 calls while also branding the 101 number as ‘not fit for purpose’.

That has been the experience of another Sherborne Road resident, who also asked not to be named for fear of being targeted by local yobs.

“They just don’t do anything, they just don’t care,” she said.

“It’s mainly motorbikes and people kicking in fences along the roads and stuff like that.

“They just don’t come, they don’t turn up when people have had their fences kicked in or their garden. They ring them and say ‘they are here now’ and if they had come within that hour they would have caught them. But they never come within that hour.”

She added: “In a nutshell, when you are feeling threatened they are not responding. They are saying they are busy with other things, they don’t come to the phone.”

Not everyone here believes the area has a serious issue with crime and anti-social behaviour, however.

This includes pensioner Edwin Boateng, of Sherborne Road .“I have lived here for 45 years with no problem, otherwise I would have gone a long time ago,” said the 75-year-old.

Stephanie James takes the same view: “It’s really quiet, I’m really surprised,” she added.

The 32-year-old had heard of the recent assault but said it was the only serious incident she was aware  of in 10 years of living in Sherborne Road.

While opinions on how big a problem Cheadle Heath is facing vary, there does appear to be a general appetite for an increased police presence here.

Retired bookkeeper Enid Williamson says she doesn’t feel unsafe living in there area –  but would like to see more officers on the streets.

“There could be more police presence walking about, you would feel a lot happier if that happened,” adds the 80-year-old..

“I don’t mean swamping it, but walking down occasionally. It would be nice to see a policeman.

“But when they seem to get hold of the children – or youths – nothing seems to happen, they just walk away from it.”

Grandfather-of-four Gerrard Scott, of Elm Road South, feels the same.

“I’m used to them in the 40s and 50s walking up and down the street,” he says.

“They should be on the streets, not in cars all the time or looking for people calling people funny names all the time.”

And it’s not just the older generation who take this view.

A 33-year-old resident who asked not to be named said: “More police presence around would help, you don’t really get bobbies on the beat.

“If you got a patrol coming up and down that would probably help – it would make people feel safer anyway.

“I’m okay personally but I know a lot of people would be. It’s hard not to be intimidated when there’s a big group of kids.”

Although he believes they are ‘probably just bored’ and looking for something to do he added: “It can be intimidating even if they are not doing anything particularly wrong – they are all dressed in black with their hoods up.”

Gangs of youths often congregate at the shops on Stockport Road – near its junction with Birchfield Road.

Some residents say the teens are probably just ‘fed up and bored’, and the issue isn’t as bad as a few years ago.

But others find it intimidating, nonetheless.

Hazel Vernon, who lives on Birchfield Road, said: “I would be quite hesitant to go to the shops at night because even when there’s big groups, massive groups, nothing is done about it.

“No one is told to go home. It’s quite intimidating when it’s a big group.”

And like other residents in the area she says there is ‘definitely’ a need for an increased police presence.

“When I was first here I used to see a lot of police here – officers doing their rounds and walking their beats. You would have a community liaison officer if you had a problem.”

But she believes Cheadle Heath is still ‘generally quite a nice area’.

“I have raised my children here and never had any problems,” she added. “ I generally keep myself to myself.”

Since councillors wrote to him, Mr Burnham has welcomed GMP’s new chief constable Stephen Watson’s ‘forward plan for Greater Manchester’, which sets out a new direction for policing in the city region.

He and deputy Baroness Bev Hughes say they ‘feel sure feel sure the chief constable’s public promises will be strongly welcomed’ by residents,  and hope people will agree his plan addresses concerns  raised  by councillors and MPs’

And they have vowed to hold him and his senior team to account in a new era of ‘scrutiny’ and ‘accountability’ at  GMP.

A GMP spokesperson said: “Last week, Chief Constable Stephen Watson set out a clear plan to improve GMP, and unveiled a series of promises to the public.

“Improvements already made include an increase in the number and speed of crimes recorded and investigated, reduced call times, a promise officers will pursue offenders relentlessly and an initiative which will see officers attend every case of burglary in Greater Manchester.

“CC Watson has also made considerable changes to leadership across GMP, part of which will include a dedicated Chief Superintendent in every district of Greater Manchester, the most ambitious senior recruitment process in GMP’s history. The aim of this is to better understand and address the challenges facing our local communities across all areas of Greater Manchester.

“As part of the public promises set out by CC Watson, a focus on neighbourhood policing will see monthly targeting of problems raised by our local communities, and a proportion of dedicated neighbourhood policing team resources will be allocated to address key issues identified, which will be reviewed regularly.

“We have made contact with the councillors concerned to offer them some reassurance of the work already taking place in the area which will only be strengthened by the commitments set out by the chief constable.

“We look forward to working closely with them, and other key partners across the district to help ensure we are responding to the areas of most concern, and providing the best possible service we can.”


Words: Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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