Action taken to cut antisocial behaviour at Chelmsford nightspots
A LONELY reveller is dribbling sick, lads who started the night as friends are now fighting, a girl is stumbling in the chippy and all-the-while some dizzy youngsters are urinating in a street corner.
To the naked eye this is a sorry end to a night out in Chelmsford. Yet behind the scenes a dedicated team of paramedics, police officers, CCTV operators, street pastors and even employees from First Buses are watching.
And on April 23, the city could win a prestigious international award for its management of nightlife.
The Purple Flag award, whose judges were out with clipboards at the end of February, look out for how safe night tourists are, how easy it is for them to travel there and back, how interesting the bars and restaurants are and how diverse the entertainment on offer is.
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"I'd be absolutely delighted if the city was awarded Purple Flag status," said city council leader Roy Whitehead, who would see Chelmsford join the likes of Birmingham, Dublin and Maidstone among the places accredited.
"Our night-time economy is very good and has been improving for a number of years now," he said.
But critics say much more needs to be done to keep on top of the drunken violence, much of which is blamed on cheap drinks promotions.
On Saturday, the Chronicle joined police and their partners as they flooded the streets for a special 'Night of Action' operation. It also waved the flag for the One Punch Can Kill campaign, launched in Chelmsford after 27-year-old Urim Rama was killed with a single blow in Duke Street last August.
At a briefing, team leader sergeant Barry Atkinson explained: "Tonight is about robustly tackling and reducing incidents of crime and anti-social-behaviour and to educate night-time economy users regarding the potential dangers."
Walking out into Duke Street at 10pm, neighbourhood sergeant Paul Austin, who has tackled gun crime in Birmingham, ran into a man wrongly using his mate's ID at Evoke nightclub.
The manager, Nick Harmston, who boasts an in-house paramedic who can treat incidents direct from the dance floor and even a sniffer dog, said: "At my old venue I took 600 fake IDs in just six months. Although three years on, they still do it."
After scaling the High Street alongside the CCTV van, sergeant Austin bumped into volunteers street pastors in Moulsham Street. Team leader Phil Couch said he had noticed a rise in drug use in the city.
He said: "We had a girl who had a psychotic reaction to mixing cocaine and alcohol – she was handcuffed after she attacked paramedics."
After shouting at several youngsters urinating in the streets, and reporting some abandoned golf clubs, sergeant Austin guided the Chronicle to the Triage tent, a temporary High Street hospital set up especially for the police operation.
The tent, paramedic Steve Hudson said, saves between £300 and £500 for every unconscious, injured or blood-stained clubber that does not need an ambulance.
"It costs to send an ambulance, to pay the wages of paramedics and the call handler, and taking them to hospital," he said.
Mr Hudson also urges people and bar staff to be "more observant" of friends who could be vulnerable to injury.
As popular night haunts such as the Candy Club, Chicago's and Evoke started to fill up, the Chronicle waded through the crowds to get the thoughts of the partygoers.
Amy Francis, 19, of Chelmsford, said: "Me and my friends got threatened the other night – but we called the police and they were here in five minutes. I feel safe because there are lots of bouncers and police."
Katie Davies, 24, of Springfield, out for her brother Jack's 22nd birthday, added: "I have always been safe – it's the last place you get in trouble. There is always a fight, but we expect that."
Yet as the night drew in around Chicago's and as council marshals began ferrying revellers into taxis, mum-of-three Hayley Baker, 20, of Beadle Way, said: "I don't feel safe. I feel safer on the streets than I do in the club."
But despite ongoing exchanges between police and clubbers, only a handful of arrests were made.
The Purple Flag Scheme
Purple Flag is an accreditation scheme launched in 2009, judging a town or city between the hours of 5pm and 6am.
The key criteria are:
The safety of the town
Ease in getting revellers home safely
The diversity of nightspots on offer
The strength of the partnership between the police, the council, nightclubs and other organisations to deal with possible problems
The benefits include:
A raised profile and an improved public image
Lower crime and antisocial behaviour
A more successful mixed-use economy