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From 1950s seaside favourite… to one of the most anti-social UK towns with yobs on ‘hippycrack’

From 1950s seaside favourite… to one of the most anti-social UK towns with yobs on ‘hippycrack’

  • Locals claim gangs of youths terrorise neighbourhoods in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex

Seaside locals say they are not surprised by new figures that reveal their seaside town is one of the worst for antisocial behaviour in the country. 

Residents of a Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, are not surprised by new data revealing their town that was once a hotspot for tourism is now a hotspot for antisocial behaviour.

They claim gangs of youths terrorise neighbourhoods while drug dealers openly ply their trade on the streets. 

Street drinkers swig cheap booze in the town’s main square just yards away from the once thriving seafront which is often littered with empty containers of nitrous oxide, known as hippy crack, locals say. 

Data released by the Office of National Statistics reveal that there were 68 incidents of antisocial behaviour (ASB) for every 1,000 residents in the centre of Clacton last year.

The rate is the highest in Essex, and is four times the national average of 17 cases for every thousand people, making Clacton one of the UK’s worst coastal towns for ASB.

John Dunkin, 72, who runs a 7-11 convenience store in the town, said: ‘The young kids are the worst. A minority of them just want to cause trouble.

‘You see them in balaclavas. They think they are hard as nails – but they are kids aged 13 or 14.

Shopkeeper John Dunkin of Clacton who blames out of control children for antisocial behaviour in the town
A ripped up mail box littering the pavement in Clacton in an apparent incident of antisocial behaviour
The square outside McDonald’s in Clacton where street drinkers are said to often congregate

‘They come in my shop and throw things around, and I have to throw them out. It’s only a few kids who are any problem – but nothing is ever done about them.

‘If you go to the police, they say they don’t know who they are. Then a couple of weeks later, officers change their tune and come in to ask if we have seen them.

‘I think a lot of it is down to boredom. Kids expect everything on a plate these days. They want to sit there and have it doled out to them.’

Mr Dunkin said he bravely brushed away a handgun pointed at his face by an armed robber in 2018 and was left with bruises to his face by thugs who rained blows on him and stole his till in 2019.

He had damning words for many people who have moved to the town which has long been regarded as a favourite retirement destination for Londoners.

Mr Dunkin claimed most people in the town are ‘on the dole or on benefits’. 

‘There is also a lot of people who have just got out of prison. The Government likes to send ex-cons and all the people they don’t want to seaside towns like this.’

A broken window at the former Sainsbury’s store in Clacton
The former Sainsbury’s store in Clacton which recently closed in what locals described as a ‘bad move for our town’
The old post office in Clacton which has now closed down and been converted into flats
Data released by the Office of National Statistics reveal that there were 68 incidents of antisocial behaviour (ASB) for every 1,000 residents in the centre of Clacton last year
Yesteryear: A fleet of women cycling down Clacton-on-Sea’s promenade in novelty bikes in a picture dated to the 50s or 60s

Read more: Make Skegness and Clacton great again! Which? leads rallying cry for cheap and cheerful seaside towns to get a second chance as they come bottom of list of UK’s beach destinations due to boozy stag groups

A 35-year-old who asked not to be named said he recently saw a youth smash an upstairs window of the town’s closed down Sainsbury’s store near Mr Dunkin’s shop.

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The local said: ‘He kicked a football and broke the glass. Then he just kicked the ball again, and had a go at another window. The little ‘uns cause chaos around the town centre.’

Jane Allwright, 57, who works in the town’s Old Market Café, said: ‘We were based in the old covered market until it closed last year and we moved to new premises.

‘It was terrible at our old place. Teenagers would be smoking weed outside and inhaling nitrous oxide. There were empty cannisters everywhere.

‘We used to have to tell kids to get off the steps, and we would get a load of abuse back. I can’t repeat what they would say.

‘They smashed the back bumper of my car, causing £600 of damage. 

‘When I was a kid and the police turned up, we would s**t ourselves, but the police have no control over anything these days.

‘I have lived here all my life and I have never known of so many stabbings and incidents of damage to property.

‘Things are a lot quieter for us at the new café, but there are still smashed bottles of vodka and empty cans littering the side streets and alleyways.’

‘It was terrible at our old place. Teenagers would be smoking weed outside and inhaling nitrous oxide. There were empty cannisters everywhere,’ cafe worker Jane Allwright says
A retired London cab driver who moved to Holland-on-Sea near Clacton last year said he was sickened that vandals had recently snapped around 20 young trees out of scores planted recently at Burrsville Park next to the cemetery in Burrs Road, Clacton
Newly planted trees which have been snapped off by vandals

Rachel Goldsmith, 52, who owns the Old Market Café, added: ‘You often see kids riding around motorbikes without helmets.

‘A little while ago it was a craze for boys to be riding their bikes down the middle of the road, pulling wheelies.

‘What I don’t like is that so many teenagers have their faces covered. It is intimidating.’

Maurice Alexander, a Conservative councillor representing St James ward in Clacton Tendring District Council, is now trying to clamp down on anti-social behaviour by getting a law introduced to ban the drinking of alcohol on streets in the town centre.

Mr Alexander said: ‘Similar bans have worked elsewhere in the UK. I believe it could work in Clacton.

‘I see antisocial drinking in the town centre as a big problem. We need to step up our game and deal with it.

‘There is amazing potential for our town square. It could be modified to have a nice market on it, or a podium for musicians.’

Local residents have moaned about the loss of facilities in Clacton town centre including the closure of the town’s main post office which has been turned into cheap flats.

One said: ‘The old post office building now has smashed windows. There are load of people from London living in there.

‘The new post office is at the back of WH Smith – but it just isn’t the same. We have lost our Marks and Spencer as well.’

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Jane Allwright who works at the Old Market cafe in Clacton
Which? asked thousands of holidaymakers to rate coastal resorts they have visited across a range of categories including quality of beaches, seafront, tourist attractions, food and drink, scenery, peace and quiet, and value for money. Table courtesy of Which? released at the end of April

Another café owner who asked not to be named said: ‘Antisocial behaviour is a big problem in Clacton. We’ve had our window smashed by someone chucking a piece of furniture.

‘It doesn’t surprise me one bit that this is the worst place in Essex.’

A 48-year-old salon worker added: ‘We get everything here. There are fights, stabbing and blatant drug dealing. People don’t care.

‘The dealers stick out like sore thumbs, but you never see the police around. Kids just drive up and down, inhaling from their balloons of hippy crack.

‘I first moved here when my daughter was two, and it was lovely, but now it is like part of London.’

Local residents have also complained of the widespread vandalism to the former Colchester Institute college site in Clacton.

Windows in the four storey building have reportedly been smashed and items including fire extinguishers have been hurled from the derelict building. 

One neighbour told the Colchester Gazette last June: ‘There are gangs of young people going in there – sometimes four or five, sometimes there’s up to 20.

‘They sit on the walls of homes opposite – it’s really frightening the elderly people here.

‘The police are called, but by the time they arrive, the youths have gone.

‘You hear glass smashing in the middle of the day – it’s during broad daylight, not in the evening. The building is an eyesore now.’

A retired London cab driver who moved to Holland-on-Sea near Clacton last year said he was sickened that vandals had recently snapped around 20 young trees out of scores planted recently at Burrsville Park next to the cemetery in Burrs Road, Clacton.

Mark Stephenson, the leader of Tendring Council, said the damage to trees was deplorable and ‘extremely disappointing’.

Malcolm Stone, 55, who owns the Music Mania second hand record store in the town, said: ‘Touch wood, I don’t get a lot of problems.

Second hand record shop owner Malcom Stone in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex

‘But there is a bit of an issue with street drinkers in the square opposite McDonald’s. We get a few in here, and they are a bit loud sometimes.

‘The police can’t do much about them unless they misbehave, but sometimes the cops pour their drink away and give them a talking to.

‘I have lived here all my life, and I worked down at the seafront in an ice cream kiosk from the age of 12.

‘The town was heaving then, and thousands of people used to come here for their holidays or days out.

‘Then our local Butlins closed in 1983. That did a lot of damage. But people still say they love it, and they want to live here.’

While Clacton has topped the antisocial behaviour league table for Essex, it still does not feature in the top 20 hotspots for ASB across the UK.

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The area with the highest proportion of ASB cases per head of population is the Strand, Mayfair and St James area of central London with 370 cases per 1,000 people last year.

The figure for the area is undoubtedly boosted by the large number of visitors to the centre of London, and the relatively low number of people living there.

The next highest in Essex was the Central Colchester neighbourhood with 58 crimes of ASB per 1,000 residents, and then Southend Central with 57 per 1,000 residents.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Steeple Bumpstead and Great Yeldham area near Braintree was the safest in Essex for ASB, with just three incidents for every 1,000 residents.

There were 990,000 incidents of anti-social behaviour last year across nearly 7,000 neighbourhoods in England and Wales – with the exception of Greater Manchester, where police were unable to provide localised figures due to computer issues.

But that was a 37 per cent drop from around 1.4 million crimes recorded in 2021 when pandemic restriction breaches were included.

Darren Rumbelow who runs the DMR 3D Cards and Gifts shop which sells football club merchandise in Clacton insisted that the problem of antisocial behaviour in the town was less serious than others believed.

Shopkeeper Darren Rumbelow who has a football memorabilia shop in Clacton-on-Sea

He said: ‘I think it is fine here. I don’t live in Clacton, but I come here to work. You hear about the odd thing going on, but I have never seen it.’

The right-leaning think-tank Onward has highlighted neighbourhood crime as a major concern in five communities including Clacton in a study released earlier this year.

The report said poverty in Clacton was concentrated in clusters of streets with poor housing stock and among elderly residents with little family support, placing high pressure on public services.

It added: ‘Local leaders face an uphill battle. They are underpowered, with decisions taken too often in Whitehall instead of by communities and councillors.

‘In Clacton, groups of men drinking around the fountain in the town square drove away both residents and potential visitors.’

The study looked at the so-called ‘left-behind’ communities of Clacton, Oldham, South Tyneside, Walsall and Barry, described dealing with antisocial behaviour as a priority in the areas, saying residents felt ‘powerless’ over the issue.

Data in the report revealed public order offences are 4.4 times higher in the area around Clacton today than they were in 2015, compared to just 2.5 times nationally.

  • June 25, 2023