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On patrol with the police keeping York safe from sexual predators | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey


‘Are you OK, guys?’: Project Vigilant police officers talk to a group of potentially vulnerable young people on a bench in Spurriergate, York (Image: Stephen Lewis)

IT’S a heaving Friday night in York, the weekend already well under way for those out on the town.

The streets are filled with lurching, bustling figures, and the raucous sound of voices raised in laughter.

A bench in Spurriergate is occupied by group of young women in fluorescent green ‘oodies’ . They’ve clearly been drinking.

A young policeman approaches them.

“How are you guys? OK?” he asks.

They’re guarded at first as he asks how old they are, and what their plans are for the evening.

It’s not illegal to sit on a bench, one tells him. “We just wanted to sit down!” another says.

But gradually, by remaining patient, he wins them around.

He explains that he’s part of a special police patrol that’s out to keep people safe from potential sex offenders. “Do you guys feel safe?” he asks.

“Yes,” they chorus, nodding.

Welcome to Project Vigilant.

Police have vowed to make the streets of York a ‘hostile environment’ for sexual predators.

Regularly, on different days of the week, members of the specially-trained ‘Project Vigilant’ team will be out and about in York city centre.

York Press: Project Vigilant officers chatting to a doorman in York

York Press: Project Vigilant officers chatting to a doorman in York

Project Vigilant officers chatting to a doorman in York (Image: Stephen Lewis)

The team is made up of 7-8 officers, half in plain clothes, half in uniform.

All have been trained to look out for the ‘tell-tale’ signs that someone may be a sexual predator.

Their mission is two-fold: to keep an eye out for anyone who may be looking to take advantage of someone drunk or vulnerable; and also, if they see someone vulnerable – particularly women – to step in and make sure they’re OK.

READ MORE: Police pledge to make York a ‘hostile environment’ for sexual predators

The night of this particular patrol is the end of Freshers week – when a new influx of students have just arrived in York.

“There do tend to be more people out – more inexperienced young people, who maybe aren’t used to York and might be out for the first time,” says Sgt Oli Lewis, who is leading tonight’s Project Vigilance patrol.

Hence the policeman stopping the group of young women on that Spurriergate bench. “At that age they think they’re invincible, because they just don’t have the experience,” he says.

York Press: A Project Vigilant police officer chatting to friends Georgina Lawson, Lizzie Manion, Lucy Nicholls and Zazie Halifax on a night out in York

York Press: A Project Vigilant police officer chatting to friends Georgina Lawson, Lizzie Manion, Lucy Nicholls and Zazie Halifax on a night out in York

A Project Vigilant police officer chatting to friends Georgina Lawson, Lizzie Manion, Lucy Nicholls and Zazie Halifax on a night out in York (Image: Stephen Lewis)

The patrol starts on Low Ousegate, where an obviously drunken woman is dancing around at a bus stop. Sgt Lewis stops to talk to her: but after a while, satisfied that – while drunk – she’s OK, we move on.

The patrol moves up Coney Street, then down Stonegate to the Swinegate quarter. The plain clothes officers range ahead, eyes peeled, always remaining in radio contact with their uniformed colleagues.

York Press: Officers check on an elderly man in a doorway

York Press: Officers check on an elderly man in a doorway

Officers check on an elderly man in a doorway (Image: Stephen Lewis)

The officers check on an elderly man sitting confused on a step; and nod to a pair of rough sleepers sitting in a shop doorway. “OK?” asks Sgt Lewis.

As we approach Manahatta’s bar in Little Stonegate, a tip-off comes in that a man with a known history of sexual violence might have been spotted inside.

Two uniformed officers confer with a doorman, then enter the bar to check it out.

York Press: Project Vigilant officers chat to doormen at Manahatta

York Press: Project Vigilant officers chat to doormen at Manahatta

Project Vigilant officers chat to doormen at Manahatta (Image: Stephen Lewis)

It’s a false alarm – this time, it wasn’t the man they thought.

“But that’s exactly the kind of thing we’re looking out for,” said Sgt Lewis.

Outside the bar, a group of women are out enjoying a hen night. They’re local, from York or nearby towns, and all protest that York is a safe city.

But they admit that, nevertheless, they’re reassured to see the police out on patrol.

“I never feel frightened in York,” says Sam Murray, who will soon be getting married. “But it’s brilliant to have the police out. You never really know what might happen.”

York Press: It's brilliant to have the police out in town': Sam Murray, right, with friends and family on her hen night in York

York Press: It’s brilliant to have the police out in town’: Sam Murray, right, with friends and family on her hen night in York

It’s brilliant to have the police out in town’: Sam Murray, right, with friends and family on her hen night in York (Image: Stephen Lewis)

Sam’s aunt Mandy Smith admits that, while she feels safe in York, it’s still important to be careful. “If you’re drunk or on your own, you could definitely feel vulnerable,” she says.

Then two of the group admit that they have had their drinks spiked in the past – though not in York.

Sam’s mum Corinne Murray said it happened to her years ago, in a nightclub. She been dancing, and had left her drink untended. She woke up two hours later, not knowing what had happened.

Another member of the group, Clare Colman, had a similar experience about 15 years ago. Thankfully, her friends noticed she was behaving strangely and were able to look after her. “But if it hadn’t been for my friends, I don’t know what would have happened.”

Their advice to young women out on the town – even in a city as safe as York – is simple: stay with your friends, and never be on your own.

The officers of Project Vigilant would no doubt second that.



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