The true state of crime in Leeds
Leeds Student’s Jenny Hollander talks to local residents, the police and the Union Exec to find out just how concerned students should be about recent violent incidents, and what we can do to protect ourselves.
Crime in Leeds is nothing new. However, things have recently taken a worrying turn; a 3rd year Philosophy student was brutally attacked by a gang of youths while walking home and a further three other students were attacked outside their halls of residence, Leodis, a week later.
As last week’s Leeds Student reported, these are far from the only victims, with 16 other similar incidents reported in the last few weeks involving a gang that targeted vulnerable young people and students. There have even been crimes on campus: a student needed reconstructive surgery after an attack outside the E C Stoner building and another experienced an attempted phone snatching outside The Ziff Building.
“October and November are particularly bad times for crime,” Leeds University Union’s (LUU)’s Welfare Officer, Harriet Rankin told us. “It seems that the darker, longer nights are bringing more crime, so be extra careful. I really don’t want [attacks] to happen to anyone else.”
West Yorkshire police agreed with Harriet’s words, blaming longer nights for the recent peak in crime. “It happens every year that Halloween and Bonfire night see heightened activity. The recent weeks have been unprecedented, however.”
However, LUU has been quick to react strongly to Leeds Student’s reporting, stating that context must be applied to the recent spate of attacks. “Recently, there have been several high-profile incidents, but that doesn’t mean it is any more dangerous in Leeds,” says LUU Community Officer Ben Fisher. “People need to be aware, but not unduly scared,” he adds.
So, what is the full picture of crime in Leeds?
Woodhouse Moor is probably the most notorious hotspot for crime which is perhaps not that surprising as it’s one of the busiest parks in the UK due to the large number of students using it as a shortcut to and from Uni. Since September the park has been the site of a series of incidents and authorities have said that the park is a ‘no go’ zone after dark.
“I would say there’s an attack in the park about once a week: I think a lot of people are attacked and just don’t report it,” says Omar Choudary, owner of Akmal’s restaurant on the edge of Woodhouse Moor. He called the ambulance when the beaten and bloody body of a third year Philosophy student, who had been attacked by the gang masked muggers, fell through the door. “I see police, helicopter floodlights, ambulances and fire brigades in there all the time. If someone is attacked, we’re the only place lit up for ages so we often see very scared and beaten victims. It’s just not safe at all.”
Since the creation of the walkway throughout the park in the late 90s, the question of whether or not to install lights across Woodhouse Moor remains contentious. Due to recent violent incidences the issue is ever present. In a Leeds Student survey 88 per cent of students said they would be in favour of greater security measures in the park.
Choudary is a strong supporter of having streetlights on pathways across the park. “It’s disgraceful that there is so much vulnerability and danger for students in that park,” he tells us. “These incidents happen all the time and lighting the park would drastically improve the situation. Is it going to take something very, very serious for them to get around to putting lights in there?”
A spokesperson for ‘Friends of Woodhouse Moor,’ a community group of local residents who work for the preservation of the park, highlighted that the installation of lights would only create the sense of security, rather than actually implement it stating that lights would, “make it easier for anyone hiding in the bushes to target them (people walking through).” They also spoke of preservation issues that would come with lights.
Leeds Student asked Ben Fisher, LUU Community Officer, about how the Union is approaching the issue of lighting. “I feel that for students, there’s a divide in opinion about lighting Woodhouse Moor,” he says, “some people think it might just appear to be safer. The park is so big that lights would create some darker areas, and anybody could hide there. Lighting the park could potentially just create an illusion of safety, especially since more people would think it’s okay to walk in there. But the Union’s primary concern is whatever is the safest option for students.”
The debate will, no doubt, continue but in the meantime – what is being done in the short term?
The West Yorkshire Police are currently overseeing operations Walksafe and Northdale, which involve officers patrolling Leeds’ streets in a bid to keep its citizens safer. Also, West Yorkshire Police in collaboration with Leeds University are soon to launch ‘Operation Apollo’ and ‘Operation Hermes’ both of which work towards bar-coding student’s valuables. This means that should the worst happen and you are robbed your valubles will be easy to track should they end up in an illegal property selling shop. Bar codes will be installed onto the equipment that can be easily scanned by police. “The set up process will be as easy as popping to the shops and buying your cereal,” said Alan Cain, The University’s Head of Security Services.
Furthermore, it’s not just the police who are determined to protect Leeds – Headingley’s Street Angels regularly patrol the area during the evenings (for the full article, see p6 of LS2 Magazine). The Street Angels are volunteers supported by police staff, who look out for those enjoying Headingley’s night life. The Angels work to reduce incidents of anti-social behaviour and crime by walking people home, keeping an eye out for burglars and breaking up fights, freeing up police resources for other incidents. Trained in basic first aid, drug awareness, health and safety and conflict management, the Street Angels are based in the South Parade Baptist Church in Kirkstall Lane, which is a designated Safe Haven where people can go and wait for a taxi or their friends.
The overall message for the authorities and the Union is very clear: be responsible, take care of your friends, don’t drink too much and don’t show off your wealth. Although recent events may be scary, don’t be afraid to leave the house. Leeds Student will continue to push for greater safety in Hyde Park by meeting with the local councilors, police and MPs to try to find solutions.