Petty crime in British Rural Communities
Rural degeneration in Britain
It began, like so many others before us, with a holiday in Dartmoor a few years ago – a delightful thatched cottage in a peaceful location on the edge of the moor.
“Wouldn`t it be wonderful to live here!” we thought to ourselves.
Life on a north London estate was vexatious. Drug dealing and petty crime - such were the order of the day. We had grown used to it all to some extent, but knew deep down in our hearts there had to be a better life.
An escape to the country, growing vegetables and taking country walks. That` s what we needed!
So we began to search the internet in earnest. Not being millionaires and with no prospect of coming into money or winning the lottery finance was limited.
At first it looked grim. We could hardly afford anything, so, when under extraordinary circumstances the ‘Cottage of Our Dreams’ landed in our laps we went for it without hesitation, and, with hindsight, sense…
At first glance the village, with its whitewashed old cottages huddled around the majestic Dartmoor river appeared to be paradise. An Olde Worlde place surrounded by lush green hills. A ten minute walk and you are up on the moors with all the freedom, fresh air and exhilaration they offer.
The cottage, though small was a snip and at nearly two hundred years old and built of thick stone - we convinced ourselves we had landed on our feet and offered the vendor the full asking price without hesitation.
Weeks became months. As the credit crunch bit we became increasingly nervous that our buyer would pull out or that a global economic collapse would occur sooner rather than later and prevent us from moving to Devon and realising our long planned dream.
When we finally exchanged contracts our buyer pressed for a ten day completion and although an initial panic set in we managed it without a hitch. We thought we were in heaven.
Within days we realised the truth (I nearly said `our mistake`, but how could we have known from 250 miles away and without local knowledge?).
The village turned out to be a rather troubled place. Phrases like `out of the frying pan into the fire` sprang to mind. Large numbers of out of control teenagers rampaged around the streets.
Our property, fronting the road and in the centre of the village seemed to bear the brunt along with a few other unfortunates. Screeching and shouting during the evening and into the night the teenagers made mayhem with no apparent control. Youths get their kicks (literally) by aiming footballs at our living room and kitchen windows.
Thud, thud thud. If your nerves aren`t bad when you move in, by golly, they`re shattered by the time you move out. And move we shall, despite having lived here for only four years we are already talking of where we can go to escape the stress. (During those four years we let our cottage out and moved into rented accommodation just to get away for a bit).
Petty, but expensive to put right acts of vandalism and intimidation occur. One of our neighbours, a young South African woman said in her opinion it was `worse than Soweto!` What an indictment. But she had a point. She and her husband experienced a campaign of harassment from the youths, with rubbish being put through their letter box and their outside tap being turned on, to name just two examples. With her husband away during the week, she was fearful alone in the evenings and at night. They`ve sensibly gone.
Another neighbour, an upstanding woman who has lived in the village for thirty two years, brought up her family here, and gives back much to the community has had to endure hooliganism, vandalism (a euphemism for criminal damage), with stones being thrown at her windows, and lewd behaviour right outside her house which is positioned at the side of the park. Teenagers defaecating and performing sex acts were not uncommon, and she frequently had to see off kids swarming across her garden and climbing over her wall.
She, too, lives in dread, and the Police appear impotent or reluctant to do anything about it. High jinx and bad behaviour have led to crime, albeit on a minor scale, but to my knowledge no-one is either caught, cautioned or convicted.
This phenomenon is not restricted to Dartmoor. It is happening all over the country. And it seems particularly rife in rural communities who appear to have been abandoned by successive governments. Why is this behaviour happening in our villages?
Without wishing to offer up an excuse for bad behaviour by the young, cheap, readily available and easily accessible activities are just not there for rural youngsters.
London teenagers can travel for free. Transport links are excellent and even I, as an adult could travel to Central London for only £1! Cinemas, ice rinks, bowling alleys, sports clubs, music and drama groups and even the dreaded McDonald`s (but hey! kids love it!) are all within easy reach and provide interesting places kids can go to meet their friends.
I appreciate these sorts of entertainments cannot be built in historic villages. But nearby towns, although apparently accessible, are in reality out of reach owing to poor, expensive and infrequent transport links.
It seems to me to be a case of `Urban Regeneration versus Rural Degeneration`.
Like the sheep on the hills around them, country kids are lambs to the slaughter, taking their communities with them.
And it is sad.
Very sad indeed for all concerned.
Since writing this article a couple of years ago, we have endured a nocturnal rampage by a handful of thugs, who caused £9000 worth of damage to properties (windows smashed, gates pulled off their hinges) and cars. One car alone was a write-off. Ours had a wing mirror torn off.
A friend of mine who has been trying to make a difference to the lives of young people here by volunteering at the youth club, had human excrement smeared on her car. After that terrible, sickening event she left the youth club, not being able to face the little tikes again.
Boredom? I think I've changed my mind. There has to be something rotten in their souls.