On the 17th August, Andrew Selous MP met with Andrew McCormick, the chair of Pub Watch Leighton Buzzard at the request of Councillor Tony Morris, the chair of the community safety committee for the town. Andrew McCormick provided evidence of CCTV footage of late-night public disorder in the centre of the town on Friday and Saturday nights over the last few years including up to last weekend.
Speaking after the meeting, Andrew said “I was appalled and shocked by what I saw. There was footage of someone trying to run over bar staff in their car as well as some very nasty fights. These included broken bottles and a knife. I saw several staff being punched, including female staff and the level of violence was so extreme in one case that reconstructive surgery was required.
From talking to Andrew McCormick, I learned that the problem has got worse over the last seven years. It was in October 2012 that Bedfordshire Police withdrew a 24/7 first responder presence from Leighton Buzzard and Linslade as they did from Dunstable and Houghton Regis. Officers were then based in Luton and Bedford. This change was introduced one month before the first police and crime commissioner elections, albeit at a time when crime was falling. Andrew McCormick also told me that levels of violence have been significant since the pubs reopened after lockdown.
In recent years crime has increased and in the last few years there have now been increases in police budgets and in the number of officers. I do recognise the changing nature of crime and the additional demands placed on police forces but with increased budgets and police officer numbers, it is now time to increase the first responder police presence based in the town. I am only asking for a return to what the town always had, recognising that the town has grown a great deal, and is the third largest in Bedfordshire. I will of course work with pubs in Dunstable and Houghton Regis to respond to their particular circumstances.
As a start, I am calling for an additional four hours of police presence based in the town to cover Friday night and a further four hours to cover Saturday night. This is not the limit of my ambition but I think it is an entirely reasonable and indeed necessary first step. Bar staff are there to keep order and give people an enjoyable night out. They are not paid to police wanton violence. A police presence late on Friday nights and Saturday nights based in the High Street or Lake Street will do a great deal to deter crime and provide tremendous reassurance to both staff and law-abiding customers. It is often in the first 15 minutes that bar staff are left to deal with these incidents on their own and that is not acceptable. When I accompanied the police on a night out in Dunstable several years ago, we got to a public disorder incident in a pub in the town within two or three minutes of the call coming in. We need the same response times in Leighton Buzzard.”