Terry Fisher updated members on the progress of Operation Ceasar. He explained that in the year 2022 they have issued 35 Section 59 warnings which is more than double the number that were issued in all of 2021. They have seized three vehicles and crushed one. They have also not identified any repeat offenders which is something they were not expecting and this shows that some of their actions are acting as a deterrent as they are not seeing the same individuals being stopped over and over again and receiving the same warning. In 2021 they were mostly seeing offending mainly taking place on a Sunday, however from reviews of social media and responses this has now switched and most activities seem to be taking place on Saturdays.
Five hotspot areas have been identified and the Police are ensuring that they are putting their resources where they need to be.
For June the top 5 areas are : -
1. Rainbow Lane, Stanford-Le-Hope
2. Rear of Essex arena /Davey Down Nature Reserve
3. Orsett Heath, Chadwell St Mary
4. Blackshots and Grays
5. Colne, East Tilbury
Terry Fisher further updated the members that: -
· The Off Road Vehicles team which is a quad bike team to be trialled in Thurrock is on track to launch in September.
· In relation to drones, it was confirmed that the Leader has offered his support in ensuring that they can use some of the Council’s assets however they also have a meeting scheduled with their own drone single point of contact in Essex Police to hopefully obtain their own drone for the Community Police Team.
· The Police are also continuing to run pop-up engagement events at the areas of concerns.
· In respect of the potential application for a PSPO (Public Spaces Protection Order), a meeting took place yesterday with the Council’s Legal team and they are collating data and an evidence package to submit to the Legal team to review.
Terry Fisher also gave an update in relation to target hardening in the top 5 areas of concern as follows: -
· In Belhus Country park, the only work outstanding is a fence gap in Hamble Lane which they are looking to close.
· In Orsett Heath they are looking at a number of options, barriers have been erected in 4 locations and whilst it wont prevent access it will slow down bikes.
· Mobile CCTV is due to be erected on King George’s Avenue at the end of the Bridleway.
· The Butts Lane fencing has been repaired, they are looking at a barrier at Butt’s Lane to restrict access to the footpath.
· In Billet Lane they are looking to identify areas to target harden but this is likely to be a longer piece of work due to proposed work of 4G pitches in the area where potential restrictions would have been put up.
· In Blackshots, the site has been visited however due to it being very vast with many access points trying to restrict all of these would be incredibly expensive and difficult and they are not sure how efficient it would be at resolving the issue. The walk-way by the allotments will be closed off and barriers to restrict parking on the land at the end of Long Lane.
· Colne East Tilbury is a new area identified in the top 5 and a site visit has been conducted. The works to be conducted have been costed and this is currently in the stage of being reviewed.
· A further site visit is being arranged for Davey Down.
Councillor Redsell commented that they were riding on the golf course at Top Meadow yesterday. Councillor Redsell queried if dune buggys are allowed on the road.
Terry Fisher responded that they would need to be adapted to be on the road legally. For example, you can get quad bikes that are adapted to be on the roads. Drivers of these vehicles would need to have driving licenses and insurance. If not, they will be committing Road Traffic Offences and this can be addressed.
Councillor Redsell stated that from Woodside they are actually using the Persimmons site to come through on to Buxton Road and King Edwards Drive across the field and are not using the allotment anymore.
Councillor Redsell commented that she is sent a lot of pictures of number plates on Long Lane and they know they are from London because they have 020 stickers on the vans, she questioned whether the Police want residents to send them the pictures or whether she should just send them what she has received.
Terry Fisher responded that any engagement or assistance Councillors can give to help the public understand the ways they can report to the Police is helpful. Members can provide the pictures and any information directly to PC Priest and PC Brand. Members can send video evidence to Operation.email@example.com . It helps them to build an intelligence picture of who the riders are. Terry Fisher commented that it came as no surprise to him that some of those riders are from London and this links back to the PSPO conditions and being able to sanction drivers bringing off-road vehicles in the back of their vehicles into Thurrock.
Councillor Redsell also commented that residents are telling her that the website (extra eyes) is not easy to go on to and put pictures on.
Terry Fisher responded that he had not used or designed the website so he could not comment. He advised the members to send the pictures to PC Priest and PC Brand.
Councillor Redsell commented that she appreciates the work they are doing and explained that whilst members know what they are doing and know what’s coming the general public don’t always know this. Councillor Redsell stressed that a couple of people have been hurt on Blackshots field and they are frightening people.
Councillor Muldowney questioned how having a quad bike team will address off road nuisance vehicles.
Terry Fisher responded that when he carried out his review in 2021 the issue they had is that the areas where drivers were riding in most cases were quite remote. In Stanford there was a quarry and it would take officers 25 minutes to walk to the location, in that time the riders knew they had been seen and had left the area. When the weather deteriorates in winter months on Blackshots for example there is no ability for marked police vehicles to drive off road. Quad bikes will allow officers to engage with them, detain them and ultimately impose sanctions. It will allow for far more use of enforcement under Section 59 of the Road Traffic Act and assist in vehicle seizure. The quad bikes are not going to be used to chase after bikes endangering the public. Terry Fisher explained that from the vast amount of research he has carried out people usually come from out of the area to ride off road and Thurrock was seen as an easy target. There are forums on social media and it will be noted that we have an off road vehicles team with quad bikes and he is confident once they know this they will go elsewhere.
Councillor Muldowney stated that having taken part in engagement activities with the police it is quite a theme that it is Essex Police’s policy not to chase vehicles. Councillor Muldowney disagreed that the problem in Chadwell is coming from outside the Borough and that a proportion was from locals as residents have provided addresses of where those vehicles are coming from.
Councillor Muldowney asked for confirmation that it is not about chasing people around the Heath and questioned how the police are going to address the problem of riders from Thurrock.
Terry Fisher responded that it is not Essex Police’s policy to not pursue vehicles, they will pursue criminals but it has to be proportionate. When pursuits happen there is a risk to officers, the subject and also to the public and drivers will do ridiculously dangerous things. Terry Fisher stressed that he will not allow his officers to endanger the public. He confirmed set tactics have been devised to detain people involving vehicles, quad bikes and drones but it would not be sensible to discuss these tactics in a public forum and he would happily discuss them privately with Councillor Muldowney. Terry Fisher confirmed that he is confident they will be effective but ultimately this is a trial period and there will be a review at the end of the trial period.
Councillor Muldowney confirmed she would welcome a private meeting. She questioned whether it would be cost effective as residents pay for these operations through taxation, she also asked for more information as to what areas the 3 vehicles were seized from.
Terry Fisher responded that he didn’t have the data to hand but could obtain it fairly easily and that it could be looked at when they have their meeting.
Councillor Redsell also agreed to a meeting offline and recommended that Councillors should attend from the areas where the problem is the worst. Councillor Redsell highlighted that the Ron Evans field in Long Lane is council land and has become part of where they congregate now on Saturdays and Sundays.
Councillor Thandi questioned whether the Council and Police can push for CCTV or ANPR cameras in those 5 hot spot areas.
Terry Fisher responded that cameras have been put on King Edwards Drive. He explained that ANPR cameras for off road vehicles are relatively useless as they don’t have a registration. It is also a challenge as drivers are wearing crash helmets which causes difficulties when looking at identification. CCTV can be beneficial but drones are better than CCTV. As riders primarily use the same helmets and PPE and he confirmed the Police use the footage obtained to allow them to build an intelligence picture and seek prosecutions.
Councillor Rigby referred to the difficulties with target hardening in Blackshots and questioned whether there were any plans to put barriers at any access points on Hangmans wood.
Terry Fisher agreed Hangmans wood is used as a circuit to link up to Blackshots and Orsett Heath and it has several entrances and bushes that could be driven over and stated that if we are talking about spending 20, 30 or £40,000 of the Council’s money on barriers we needed to make sure they were effective. The entire pilot for the quad bikes only cost £40,000. Barriers can be effective at times but there are legal implications when it comes to bridleways, scramblers can zip though them and they can get ripped out quickly. Terry Fisher stated that he is always open to reviewing areas.
Councillor Pearce asked if there had been updates of trouble in Aveley. There have been bikes in the Love Lane area fields previously although there is a school been built there now so this might change.
Terry Fisher clarified that they get calls from all over Thurrock and it is not limited to those 5 areas. They have a very small team with a large remit of responsibility. He encouraged Councillors to get messages out to residents to call the police as that’s what decides which areas are in the top 5.
Councillor Redsell re-affirmed that members should encourage people to report these matters to the police.
Councillor Chukwu referred to the target hardening in Chadwell and commented that at the bridge he has seen the fence and there is a large gap in between which in his opinion wont slow bikes down.
Terry Fisher responded that he understood the concerns however there are legal issues as to why they cannot do more with those barriers such as the public right of way and therefore it is the only restrictions available to us.
Councillor Chukwu stated he understood the legal implications but it looks like the whole idea is not working if the barriers and fences can’t stop them and that it has not been effective so far.
Terry Fisher confirmed that they are not saying the barriers are the solution and stopping there, they are trying to make it a less desirable place to ride and it will help his officers to apprehend offenders. Over a 12 month period we can review what effect the barriers are having at the locations.
Michelle Cunningham (Thurrock Community Safety Partnership Manager) re-affirmed that there are limitations due to the bridle ways and we have to conform with these and Public rights of way limit what they can do.
The Strategic Lead for Clean and Green Services commented that when they looked at putting the barriers in there were concerns at the Heath and by Treetops that a moped going at speed could cause an accident, he agreed it wont stop a bike but it will slow it down sufficiently so that if there were to be an accident we are not looking at the worst case scenario.
Councillor Muldowney stated that there is a big wide open space to drive around the barriers and therefore it wont be effective in slowing down bikes. There has to be extra fences at the left side of the barrier otherwise they will come straight down and on to the heath with a slight turn to the left.
The Strategic Lead for Clean and Green Services agreed to look into it.
Councillor Redsell commented that we can’t fence off all of Blackshots field and hopefully what’s coming now will make a difference.
Councillor Muldowney stressed the barrier in its current formation is not effective. She also asked for clarification as to where the location of the 4 lots of barriers on Orsett Heath are.
The Strategic Lead for Clean and Green Services clarified that there are 4 barriers at 2 locations. They are also looking at another and putting barriers in at the path through the underpass.
At 19.45pm, Terry Fisher left the meeting.
Michelle Cunningham responded to Councillor Thandi’s point about CCTV and confirmed that they look at all areas, one has been put in at end of Long Lane to see when vehicles are pulling up. They have looked at Colne but it is not possible at that location. She explained that the areas are on rural land so it is not always easy to put cameras up but they are looking at areas where the vehicles park up.
Councillor Muldowney raised the issue of Greyhound Lane where individuals keep removing the barriers.
The Strategic Lead for Clean and Green Services responded that he is happy to visit any areas.
Michelle Cunningham clarified that she wasn’t aware that they had been vandalised again.
Councillor Chukwu raised the issue of drones.
The Strategic Lead for Clean and Green Services noted that Terry Fisher was best placed to answer the question but had now left the meeting. It is however his understanding that they will use the drones to spot people and then follow them using the drones to where the vehicle is that transported the off-road vehicle to the area and it is then at that location the police will engage with them.