‘We are prisoners in our own homes’

VERBAL abuse, stone-throwing, underage drinking, residents afraid to leave their homes after 5pm.

This may sound like a description of an inner city ghetto but sadly, it is just another day for the people of Laurencetown. Residents of Church View Close and, more recently, the surrounding estates say they have become prisoners in their own homes - victims at the hands of teenage rebels who have no respect for people, property or authority.

“They’re like rats coming out of ratholes in the evenings,” said one 61-year-old man who has lived in the cul-de-sac for four years. The youths, ranging in age from 12 to 17 and gathering in groups of up to 20 at a time, are said to come from Banbridge and Lenaderg and have run riot in the area for the past few months. They have reportedly become more volatile during the recent school holidays and spells of good weather. Most residents in the area are pensioners who live alone.

“What sort of a life is it when you are hoping for rain just so they might stay away?” added the male pensioner. Many residents were keen to speak to the Leader to tell of their plight but no-one wanted to be named for fear of drawing attention to themselves and becoming the target of yet more anti-social behaviour.

And the teens involved are not just fooling around or acting out, according to the pensioner. He has had people drop their trousers in front of him, stone his car, and throw bottles at his windows - but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

“I’m not someone who’s easily scared,” he said. “But this is just getting worse and worse. I am convinced something worse will happen. There’s no telling what they might do. It’s a scary situation.”

A neighbour of his was robbed the week before Easter. “I’m not saying they were linked but having them hanging around outside your house and intimidating you, I wouldn’t put it past them,” said the 63-year-old woman. “In the evenings I’m afraid to sit in my living room with the tv or the lights on. I don’t want them to see me and come to the window or shout things.”

The young people used to sit and drink on the grass verge opposite the Laurencetown Community Centre on the Drumnascamph Road. Lately though they’ve gathered outside the nearby homes, even venturing into people’s back gardens.

“They’ve emptied bins all over the gardens,” said the woman. “And if they kick a ball into your front yard there’s no question of them asking for it, they’ll just jump over the fence and take it. If you dare to look out your window or step outside your door all you get is abuse.”

Just across the way in an area more popular with young families a 28-year-old woman described her day-to-day life as “torturous”. The mother-of-one said the intimidating activites of young people who gather at her gable wall means she can’t let her five-year-old son into the back garden.

“From 5pm in the evenings I don’t leave the house,” she said. “They sit on my wall so I can’t get outside. If I walk to the shop they shout ‘How much are you?’ and ‘Police tout’.”

Those living in the area don’t want the village’s name to be tainted but said they are sick of being left to fend for themselves. Many questioned the role of parents in their children’s lives, saying more responsibility needs to be taken from within the home.

“Where are their parents?” asked one pensioner. “Why are children aged 12 and 13 running about at midnight in an area they don’t even live in?”

Each person who spoke to the Leader insisted they have called the police to report almost every incident, but nothing has helped.

“The police come out and they disappear into every direction - there’s so many cubbyholes for them to hide in,” said another neighbour. “But as soon as the police leave they reappear and it starts all over again. No-one wants to know.”

Some residents suggested CCTV cameras might help - but another said the youths would simply pull them down. Another man insisted there should be a curfew stating no youths could come into the cul-de-sac after a certain time in the evening. Most agreed that a greater police presence in the area was necessary - to provide light relief for a short time at least.

Police said they are working hard to tackle the problems in Laurencetown. “We understand how intimidating and frightening antisocial behaviour can be and we do our utmost to address this type of behaviour,” said Neighbourhood Policing Inspector Jacqueline Gillespie.

“Within the last few days we have charged a 15 year-old-male youth with criminal damage relating to graffiti in Millar Park on April 26.

“This demonstrates what we can do when the community works with us.” Inspector Gillespie urged victims of this type of crime to continue reporting incidents to the police.

“I would urge all residents in the Church View area to support us and help us to tackle antisocial behaviour in their area,” she said.

“Do not suffer in silence; if you see antisocial behaviour in your area contact us immediately so that we can respond and find those responsible. If we work together we have a much better chance of bringing those responsible before the courts.”

“We will continue to patrol the area and will also liaise with partner agencies to explore all our options in tackling antisocial behaviour in this area.

“Any resident who has concerns about antisocial behaviour or anyone who witnesses antisocial activity should contact police on 0845 600 8000.”