The BaNES Gypsy, Traveller, Boater and Roma Community Support Service report that over the summer they met with Chief Inspector Thatcher of Avon and Somerset Police on the issue of anti-social hire boaters. Avon and Somerset Police and Wiltshire Police have produced a joint leaflet which has been delivered by them to the hire boat companies along the western K&A, along with a message that the police will take action against drunk and anti-social behaviour from hirers and will be keeping a log of the number of reported incidents, which could result in action being taken against companies that persistently hire to this type of customer.
So please do report any incidents to the police, who say that reports will be taken seriously, by ringing 101 or ring 999 if you witness a crime being committed. However, the police need to know where the offending boat is clearly preferably with lock or bridge numbers and place names used on OS maps or waterway guides. If you have a smart phone you may also be able to give the police a map reference or 12-digit National Grid Reference. If the police don’t know where the offending boat, is they can’t come out. They also need to know the name of the company, the boat name and which direction the boat is heading.
Sam Worrall of the Gypsy, Traveller, Boater and Roma Community Support Service said that there would be a further meeting with Tim Harris, Avon and Somerset police Anti-Social Behaviour Officer and that the leaflet would be published on the service’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/GRTBSupport.
Ms Worrall also voiced concerns to Chief Inspector Thatcher that hire boaters were putting their own lives in real danger by larking around drunk on boats that they have no experience with. She said that whilst liveaboard boaters are fed up being on the receiving end of the bad behaviour, speeding and verbal abuse they face from these groups of holiday makers, many also fear that such behaviour could easily result in someone being killed in an accident.
Earlier this year over 100 boaters and local canal-side residents signed a letter calling on the police in BaNES and Wiltshire to take action to stop the frequent incidents of wilful damage to boats, drunken behaviour, verbal abuse and other anti-social behaviour by hire boat stag parties. Below is the letter:
I am writing to you on behalf of myself and the undersigned boat owners on the Kennet & Avon Canal regarding the amount of criminal behaviour in breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act committed by the users of holiday hire and day hire boats in both Bath & NE Somerset and Wiltshire. Every week from late winter to late autumn there are regular incidents of:
– Holiday hire and day boats causing damage to private boats by either purposefully or accidentally crashing into them
This is totally unacceptable. If this happened in a vehicle on the road the offence would be taken seriously and the Police and insurance companies would be involved. Some hire boaters have no regard for other boats or indeed their own hire deposits. Hire companies are known to tell hirers that boating is a “contact sport” thus validating this behaviour. We have the right to expect peaceful occupation of our boats without the fear and stress of mismanaged hire boaters thinking that it is acceptable behaviour to crash into our property. In some cases there has been injury to people by objects being dislodged from shelves, spills of boiling liquids while cooking, or small children falling over as the result of their boat being rammed by a hire boat.
– Heavy drinking
This is a massive problem that leads to unacceptable antisocial behaviour. Many hire boat companies actively encourage groups of people (mainly stag party hire boaters) to go to the pub while they wait for their boats to be prepared. This means that even before they get on to the boats a lot of alcohol has already been consumed. They then drive the boat away being advised to stop at the next pub on the route. Driving any vehicle under the influence of alcohol is a serious offence, never mind steering 10-20 tonnes of steel that does not stop quickly and that you have only just been tutored how to control. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday are a nightmare for boat owners as we are literally bombarded by this type of hirer causing havoc across the canal.
– Threatening language, racial abuse, swearing, aggressive behaviour
Unfortunately, if we as boat owners challenge hire boat crews about their behaviour more often than not their response is a tirade of abuse. The main problem we encounter is speeding which pulls moored boats away from the bank causing them to come adrift. When we ask nicely for hire boaters to slow down we are usually met with unnecessary abuse including threats and bad language. A “stag boat” crashed into my boat recently while it was moored at Avoncliff and I was on board. I challenged them. I was shouted at and called a “stupid c**t” and a “f*****g slag” by a group of at least 10 men in their twenties and thirties. In separate incidents I have also been called a “dirty pikey” and asked why I don’t get a house like “normal people” and told to pay my “rates” and “get a job”. As it is, I have a job, I pay my taxes and I am not as they say, a “dirty pikey” which is a racist insult.
– Urinating from the boat into the canal
The canal is not a toilet. Toilets are provided on the hire boat.
– Nakedness and indecent exposure
In addition to men urinating into the canal, there are also incidents of “mooning” and indecent exposure in the name of “fun”. Children and families live on the canal and even more use the towpath for walking and cycling, especially at weekends. They should not have to be witness to this kind of behaviour in what they believed to be a peaceful and beautiful setting. One Sunday afternoon recently I saw a middle aged man dressed as a pirate sporting a fake 2 ft long penis and testicles standing on the roof of a boat, hands on hips. This is not what most canal and towpath users care to experience.
– Towing of inflatable dinghies containing members of crew
This is particularly dangerous given that the propeller is only centimetres away from the back of the boat. Should the driver slow the narrowboat, the inflatable dinghy, towing rope or someone’s limb could get caught and sucked in by the propeller causing serious injury. I have personally witnessed two men in shorts leap from the back of a speeding narrowboat onto an inflatable dinghy. It is only a matter of time until someone is badly injured by such actions that also seem to be disregarded by the hire boat companies.
– Picking up more passengers than are booked onto the boat, on the way after leaving the hire base
Sometimes there are incidents of more than the accommodated amount of passengers joining the boat after it has left the hire base, often carrying even more alcohol onto the boat. Again this is dangerous and invalidates the hire boat company’s insurance for the amount of people carried.
– Night cruising
Cruising a boat at night is highly irresponsible if you are an inexperienced boater. Apart from the fact that in every hire agreement night cruising is prohibited, the hirers will also have no knowledge of the area or where to moor and therefore can make far more mistakes in the dark. Recently there has been a sharp rise in hire boaters ignoring this policy and a number of incidents of crashing have occurred, sometimes when boaters have been asleep. Again, most of these incidents have involved single sex crews that have been drinking alcohol and are seeking the next pub on the route. Boaters have been subjected to abuse and threats when they have challenged the hire boaters which can be very intimidating at night.
Boat owners are subject to theft of their property because a lot of items are stored outside. It is well known that unless you lock everything to your boat, it will probably get stolen. Bicycles are the most thieved items, which most boat owners will report to the police. These crimes tend to be opportunists from neighbouring towns. Recently though there has been a rise in incidents of thefts that have proven to be committed by hire boaters. A boater just last week had left a pair of decent garden chairs on the grass outside their boat at Bradford on Avon and in the morning they were gone. Word went out amongst the community to see if anyone had seen the chairs. Later that day another boater reported seeing a hire boat with two men sitting on chairs on the roof of their boat matching the description heading into Bath. They were indeed the chairs. On this occasion the chairs were returned to the owner with many gifts and apologies for their “high jinks” after the boat owner had reprimanded the hirers for their actions. I personally have had smaller items stolen like good quality solar lights by large groups of drunken people on the towpath wandering back to their hire boats moored nearby after leaving the local pubs. This is just not acceptable.
The perpetrators of the above crimes would be cautioned or even arrested in a city centre, so it is well overdue that something is done about it on the canal. The hire boat companies and the Canal & River Trust seem completely uninterested in our concerns and it is clear that they care only about the revenue that hire boats and large single sex parties bring in while leaving boat owners to deal with these problems alone, or with minimal police help. Many boaters have expressed concerns that if they call the police because the hire boats are moving, the police may not catch up with the boats, or the crew may disappear into the nearest town (Bradford on Avon or Bath) or elsewhere before the police can locate them. It is not as easy to explain locations of incidents as it would be in a town or city and access points are few and far between, police would need to walk or cycle, sometimes at length, to attend these situations. As a result many boat owners do not call the police and so hirers and hire companies get away with this behaviour time and again. We wish to seek assurance that if serious issues arise the police will do all they can to help and remove the perpetrators if necessary. I have had personal experience of trying to direct a paramedic to an emergency situation near Staverton, Wiltshire which proved very difficult as the paramedic was unfamiliar with my location. As a community we run the risk of feeling cut off and there is a feeling that the authorities do not have adequate knowledge of the canal and towpath to attend such incidents in a timely fashion.
The Canal & River Trust promote the canal to all, so we expect a wide range of visitors, however, single sex parties are spoiling the ambience of the canal and the result of this is multiple criminal offences being committed. Threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour in a public space such as the Kennet and Avon Canal are crimes under Section 5 of the Public Order Act and these offences are aggravated if there is a racial or sexual element to the behaviour. To help to combat the crimes that we are the victims of, we would welcome dialogue between yourselves and the boating community. Over 100 boaters have put their name to this letter which clearly shows how many people are upset and affected by these problems.
One suggestion is to have a police presence at Bradford on Avon Wharf and Bath on Fridays especially as these are the main trouble spots. If a group of people are too drunk to board a narrowboat then they should be refused in the interest of their own safety and that of others on the canal. I complained to the hire boat company when I was verbally abused by hirers and they said that if there are any incidents like the one I had described I should call the Police.
Our boats are our permanent or our holiday homes. We do not expect to be rammed, shouted at, abused, be witness to nakedness and put up with loud music and antisocial late night behaviour and noise. We believe that it is about time the hire boat companies took responsibility for their own businesses and who they hire to and not pass the buck to the local Police authority when they have caused the problem in the first place. We have knowledge of canal-side home owners who share our concerns, I am currently looking into the extent of this and would welcome dialogue with them as well.
I hope that something can be done to help us in these serious matters and I look forward to your response.