At barely 24 hours’ notice, the people turned out in force yesterday to “reclaim our park”, following the series of sexual assaults and daylight robberies in South Norwood Country Park.
A Metropolitan Police inspector was there, too, but he chose not to engage with the protest walkers – some of them potential witnesses to the crimes. Instead, he opted to sit his car until most had left, before giving an extremely unconvincing interview to ITV London.
The mass walk, organised by the South Norwood Tourist Board, was to raise awareness of the assaults on women that started in early May. Around 80 people turned out (there are no official police crowd estimates, because Inspector Plod couldn’t do a count while fiddling with his phone in his car).
The majority were women dog walkers, some with young children in buggies. Many men were there, too, in solidarity.
The walk left the visitor centre, headed towards the Harrington Road entrance where the first attack occurred, then followed the circular route round the Country Park.
According to Jane Nicholl, one of the organisers, “Many regular users we met on the way were explained the purpose of the walk.
“None had any awareness of the attacks, and not one notice was seen anywhere warning women to be careful.”
On returning to the visitor centre at the end of the march, the television news crew interviewed several marchers for its package that was broadcast on Friday night. In a single move, the South Norwood Tourist Board had done more to publicise the crimes, and the threat to law-abiding residents and park-users, than the police or council had managed to achieve in six weeks.
Once most of the walkers had left for home, DCI Richard McDonagh emerged from his car for his interview with the television reporter.
In the interview, he claimed that because the park is more than 100 acres, the might of the Metropolitan Police force had been unable to organise a few posters at key points to warn walkers, joggers and other park users of the need for vigilance, while the Met continues its search for the attacker.
Instead, according to a seemingly discomfited Inspector McDonagh, they have put out messages on social media. The Met’s South Norwood ward Twitter account has a grand total of 462 followers (including Inside Croydon). Their Woodside ward account is followed by 259 devoted souls.
Clearly, the police cuts instituted by Theresa Mayhem when she was Home Secretary and applied with such keeness by Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London are taking their toll. After one sighting in the park last Wednesday of someone who fits the description of the man the police are seeking to assist with their enquiries, the woman who reported the incident has been told by the police that they will get round to interviewing her… but not until Monday evening.
Part of the park is in Woodside ward, represented on the council by Tony Newman, the council leader, and Hamida Ali, supposedly the cabinet member responsible for a safer Croydon. Despite the first attack being reported in the first week of May, the council has taken no action – there have been no public notices, website warnings, or additional park patrols by staff.
After the walk, community activist Nicholl said, “Once again, the people of South Norwood proved that they stand united. Nearly 100 people attended the Reclaim The Park event, which aimed to both raise awareness of the recent spate of sexual assaults and also to show community solidarity in the face of the antisocial behaviour of one individual.
“Thank you to everyone who turned up – and all those who couldn’t but who shared their support online. People met, made new friendships, arranged future walks together and reinforced the community bonds that make South Norwood a place that we are proud to call home.”
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