A GWENT village has been left frustrated at the amount of anti-social behaviour seen on the streets, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic started.

Crosskeys residents have made numerous complaints about various incidents across the past year – with reported anti-social behaviour incidents doubling over the past 18 months.

Figures from Gwent Police show that between April 2019 and January 2020, the number of reported incidents of anti-social behaviour were between one and six a month. However, in March 2020 – the month the UK went into lockdown for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic – there were 10 recorded incidents.

May 2020 saw the highest number at 19, compared to just six in the previous year.

Why is there an increase in anti-social behaviour?

The reasons for the increase are unclear, but it does coincide with the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw everything close down for a four-month period from March 2020 - including youth clubs. Before the pandemic, the youth club in Crosskeys was popular with young people. But, with the club forced to close its doors, many young people were left with nowhere to go - and nothing to do.

Another potential cause is the conversion of the former old Crosskeys Hotel – now known as the Solar Strand – and Westwood Villas into a type of halfway house, used to house some of the homeless people when the pandemic first started. Many residents have reported incidents of fights, verbal abuse and drug-related crime around the area with many stemming from these areas.

Gwent Police's Inspector Andrew Boucher said: “Clearly, even one incident is more than we’d like to see. We work closely with partners across a range of statutory bodies, local business, volunteer groups and the public via problem solving forums – sharing information and taking a joint approach to tackling issues.

"A good example of this is the Caerphilly partnership hub, a multi-agency group that meet fortnightly with agencies such as police, social services, education and more that discuss thematic areas and develop action plans to deal with those issues.”

Insp Boucher also highlighted how any breaches of Covid-19 rules were recorded as anti-social behaviour.

He said: “ASB (anti-social behaviour) has lots of categories because of how we record it. Part of the reason ASB has increased in the last six months is the reporting of Covid-19 regs breaches which are recorded as ASB but clearly not the kind of ASB that people in Crosskeys are referring to have experienced.

“These account for 22 of the 79 ASB incidents recorded in Crosskeys in six months since Jan 1.

“Other types of ASB recorded include general nuisance (22 in six months) which can range anywhere between parking issues, animal related issues such as fouling, issues with neighbours and most other things that don’t fall under the categories discussed.”

What have residents reported as incidents of anti-social behaviour?

Residents have reported a number of different types of incidents including young people bullying others, loud music and groups hanging around intimidating others, verbal abuse when confronted, trespassing on railway lines, drug use and damage to cars and property. It must be noted that not all of this is caused by the young people but has also been attributed to some of those living in the aforementioned halfway houses.

One resident who did not wish to be named said he was concerned about taking his child to the park due to the way young people behave. He said: “They’re often loud and using foul language. They’ll take over the park and my child wouldn’t be able to use the play equipment due to this.”

Insp Boucher said: “In relation to youth disorder, reporting of ASB of this kind is low. In the last six months, there have been isolated incidents of youth disorder (nine) (gathering, being rowdy, underage drinking) which have been responded to by police – mainly at the railway station, Crosskeys corner and Waunfawr park and of those reports, police have attended and issued three ASB referrals and referred four persons into the youth offending service for associated offences (criminal damage).”

Others have reported incidents multiple times a week to the police. Some residents are concerned about the increased amount of visible drug use, regularly seeing people dealing and taking drugs in the streets – and even finding used heroin ‘kits’.

One resident previously spoke to the Argus about the heroin kits, saying: “I care very much about this beautiful place, and it seems to be a lot less safe a place to live in many ways. My anxiety about heroin is that it often results in an increased risk of crime but there are also other issues.

“Authorities seem to just shrug their shoulders.”

Insp Boucher said: “Drugs misuse blights communities and drives criminality and community intelligence is key to this.  

“Recently, we seized £1.3 million of cannabis following an intelligence-led strike at a disused nursing home following intelligence from the local community, and have executed seven warrants under the misuse of drugs act in the local area.

“As well as this, we recently arrested a local man fuelling drugs misuse through criminality following a report of an attempted burglary by officers on patrol in Crosskeys who caught him breaking into a car and found a purse on him relating to another vehicle break in nearby Newbridge. This man has received a sentence of 98 days (3.5 months) in prison and will be closely scrutinised on release.

“We also work closely with partners to protect children who may be exposed to criminal and or sexual exploitation. We work really closely with outreach, education, social services and other partners to identify and intervene with individuals who we have concerns for. Our Operation Quartz team, a branch of public protection closely manage individuals at risk of exploitation.”

Insp Boucher also highlighted another issue of anti-social behaviour in the area – off-road biking. He said: “We have received six reports in the last six months. Lots of work is going on in this area and we have run several high profile operations under the ‘Operation Harley’ banner, seizing over 30 bikes causing damage to our countryside.

“We have recently identified and met with an off-road riding club to get an inside perspective on why the issue is occurring. We’ve also been supported by our local MP who has offered to take feedback to the UK Government on how potential legislative changes could impact on the issue as part of the back-engineering of this really impactive issue.”


What can be done about this?

There are a number of ways that anti-social behaviour can be combatted.

  • Curfews

Iceland has been successful in curbing anti-social behaviour with a number of measures including a curfew for people under the age of 16. It is written in Article 92 of Iceland’s laws on child protection that: “Children aged 12 and under may not be out of doors after 20:00 unless accompanied by an adult. Children aged 13 to 16 may not be out of doors after 22:00, unless on their way home from a recognised event organised by a school, sports organisation or youth club.”

This is extended by two hours for the summer period between May 1 and September 1. Anyone who is out after these hours will be taken to a police station by an officer and their parents contacted to collect them. If the parents are not reached, the child is taken to a children’s shelter temporarily.

It may be an effective way to curb anti-social behaviour in young people if implied, however, much of the behaviour seems to be caused by younger people in the early evening, so the curfew may not be effective.

It is also not legal for police in the UK to remove someone from an area just for being there at a specific time, unless they are acting in an anti-social manner. In 2005 a High Court judge ruled that it was illegal to forcibly remove children from curfew zones.

The ruling came after a 15-year-old boy from Ham, south-west London, claimed that the powers breached his human rights. He challenged the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act rule which said that any unaccompanied u16s in a curfew zone between 9pm and 6am when the ban was in force would face a police escort home whether they were suspected of bad behaviour or not.

The boy said he feared the police could pounce on him for going to Tesco or his band practice. Lord Justice Brooke said: “It would be illegal under the act for a police officer to forcibly take a youngster home. Police can ask children under the age of 16 to go home but they cannot make them obey.”

  • Patrols

Another way Iceland have combatted anti-social behaviour is to have parents patrolling the streets according to a BBC news segment. The parents said they go in groups patrolling and making sure that children are behaving and are not out after curfew.

  • Dispersal orders

Dispersal orders are another way for anti-social behaviour to be controlled. There are many of these orders in place at any one time across the UK – the majority of which provide good results.

In Wrexham, a dispersal order was in place for a weekend with the inspector hailing it as a success. No one breached the order on the particular weekend and one bike was seized for being used anti-socially.

Residents in Crosskeys however, believe that some of the anti-social behaviour is caused by dispersal orders in other areas – as there has been these orders in place in Newbridge and Risca at various times, which is seeing youths from those areas ride a train to the next stop and meet in Crosskeys so this could have a positive effect on anti-social behaviour in Crosskeys, but could push the problem to other areas where they may go to congregate instead.

“A lot of the young people come from the train station and as Crosskeys is the stop in between Risca and Newbridge where there are already dispersal orders in place, it is an easy place for them to congregate,” said one resident.

  • Public Spaces Protection Order

In areas like Rochdale, there is a Public Spaces Protection Order to combat anti-social behaviour. It has been in place since 2018 and gives police powers to force people causing trouble to leave the town centre or face fines of up to £100. The order in Rochdale prohibits drinking alcohol on the street, driving or using a car in an anti-social manner, obstructing the highway or loitering, antisocial parking, using a skateboard in the restricted area, begging on the street and using a bicycle, scooter or other wheeled vehicle in a way that may cause nuisance, alarm or distress.

  • Youth club and positive activities

The opening of the youth club again could be effective at seeing the anti-social behaviour caused by young people to reduce. As Covid restrictions ease there is scope for it to open which would provide a place to go for the young people.

In South Tyneside the project Bored in Bolden focusing on getting young people involved in positive activities saw 60 per cent less reports of youth disorder. In 2012, there were more than 150 young people aged between eight and 25 taking part in activities such as swimming, football, litter-picking and climbing. The sessions had also seen eight of the young people trained to volunteer at the sessions.

  • Closure orders

To deal with the drug use and anti-social behaviour caused by some of the residents at the Solar Strand and Westwood Villas, closure orders have been put in place on properties in the Caerphilly borough as well as in Monmouthshire after persistent reports of anti-social behaviour.

If this was implemented on the properties, it would negatively impact the residents who are living in the properties and causing no trouble.

Insp Boucher understands that these properties are the cause of the bulk of the complaints and concerns but said it was fairer to let the council comment as they are the ones who are funding the use of the buildings.

  • Teamwork

In Sunderland in 2012, a project focusing on the identifying of culprits of antisocial behaviour was hailed a success.

The Operation Cathode project in the Grindon area of Sunderland saw ‘youth disorder’ drop by 82 per cent through information sharing between police, the council and schools. 20 young people were identified as causing problems, with 12 of them signing antisocial behaviour agreements and parents of three of them were given notices seeking possession of their properties due to the behaviour of their children.

Neighbourhood inspector Dave Pickett said that the number of complaints had reduced from 58 between April and June of that year to 10 in September and October after the project began.

What is being done?

Residents have created and signed a petition for Gwent Police, Caerphilly County Borough Council and Transport for Wales as well as the local MPs and AMs to work to reduce the behaviour in the area and make it safer for them. The petition can be viewed here.

Insp Boucher said: “We have four Problem Oriented Policing plans (POP) some of which were voted on by the public in the recent ‘Your Voice’ survey. These plans use approved problem-solving methodology (with lots of input from partners and the public) and aim to back engineer the issue as a whole looking at the offenders, the location, the victims and the key stakeholders and aim to deliver an impact on issues within six months.

“Newbridge town centre is a key area for us currently in terms of ASB as we know the demographic of that group is made up of young people from nearby Blackwood, Oakdale, Pontllanfraith, Abercarn, Cwmcarn and Crosskeys.

“In the last three months alone, officers in conjunction with numerous partners (existing and new), volunteers and outreach have conducted daily patrols, enforced dispersal orders where necessary and undertaken initiatives surrounding diversionary activities as well as making some crucial interventions with individuals responsible for ASB - at home, in school and outside of school by sharing information and creating working groups against the POP plan. I mention this as its important to recognise that ASB is transient and the advent of social media, easier and cheaper transport etc means people aren’t confined to a specific area.

“We also make great use of our in house design out crime officer who performs environmental visual audits (EVA’s) at key locations and makes recommendations that we then take to whoever controls that environment. An example would be identification of lack of lighting, rubble from groundworks being left that could be used as missiles, lack of open space and signage and even more complex recommendations such as how construction effects natural observation etc.”

The police have seen some success with their work. Insp Boucher said: “We were recently successful in gaining a criminal behaviour order for one juvenile who caused great disturbance in the Cwmcarn and Crosskeys area and was recently arrested and charged for breaching those conditions – due to appear in court this month.

“We’ve lots of tools at our disposal to deal with ASB beginning with the ASB strike process, a three strike programme ran with the local authority with the end result being anti-social behaviour injunctions (ASBI’s) and at the higher end of the scale, Criminal Behaviour orders for those who have been involved in criminal activity (this can include violence and criminal damage).”

On the Solar Strand and Westwood Villas, a spokeswoman for Caerphilly County Borough Council said: “In response to the Covid-19 crisis Welsh Government has placed additional requirements on all local authorities to provide emergency accommodation, over and above our usual homeless duties, with the aim of ending rough sleeping in Wales. “People can find themselves homeless for a number of reasons and, as a local authority, we have a statutory duty to accommodate them. 

“The demands of these requirements on our service has resulted in us using establishments in a variety of locations in the county borough, to provide temporary emergency accommodation.

“Risk assessments are completed for all service users and these are used to decide which emergency housing facility is utilised and best meets their needs.  All service users are offered housing related support throughout their stay by specialist external providers and regular contact is maintained with each property proprietor to monitor the success of each placement. In addition, the authority has employed the services of a security company at some of the facilities we use to assist with its management, with any concerns being reported to the emergency housing team.

“We confirm that for the accommodation unit at Westwood Villas in order to manage the accommodation unit the proprietor of the building has appointed a manager to attend the site between the hours of 13:00pm – 18:00pm daily to address any issues. In addition to this, there is also security on site from 10:00pm – 6:00am daily.

“The local authority has also placed a Housing and Welfare Related Support Service on site for four days a week where Support Workers are available to engage with residents to address and resolve a wide range of housing and welfare need support issues. We would further advice that the local authority is also in discussion with the support provider to set up additional more specialist and tailored support services to address substance misuse and mental health support needs.

“We would advise that the accommodation unit at Solar Strand also has a manager and night porters who are on site from 6pm until 10pm, security are then on site from 10pm Monday – Sunday.

“The same level of support is on offer as at Westwood Villas.”