FERAL youths make life a misery for the good people of Piershill - right under the nose of Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill
HEAD lowered and fists circling, a hooded figure practises his jab against a bus shelter ad hoarding.
Switching hands, legs shoulder-width apart, he pounds the reinforced plastic – a blow a second – as thunderous booms echo off buildings in the nearby square like a bass drum in an amphitheatre.
Yards away, a pensioner turns her back to the din and looks the other way.
Unfulfilled, the vandal curls his fingers round the bottom lip of the pane making a half-hearted bid to prise it from its frame.
The flexi-glass slips from his grasp and snaps back into position.
Defeated, he rejoins a nearby rabble – a small number of rowdy teens – as another tries his luck shimmying the bus stop from its concrete base using an electrics box for leverage.
It’s a relatively quiet night here at Piershill Square West, possibly owing to the conspicuous Buzz bus parked up on the pavement which, equipped with laptops, plasma screen and discothèque turntables, has successfully distracted the crowd of five or six – for a time.
But as they stream off in high spirits, the minor assault of street furniture begins, undaunted by the collection of staff readying the bus for departure.
It is a snapshot of the minor disorder that routinely blights the streets of Piershill in north Edinburgh – and it’s shortly after teatime on a Wednesday night.
Come dark, petty vandalism and antisocial behaviour are commonplace, at least anecdotally. Residents speak of an intimidating atmosphere of marauding youth gangs, sometimes 40-stong, causing havoc on the streets while business owners and takeaway staff say they face a steady bombardment of low-level harassment.
But the racist attack on a 12-year-old schoolgirl by up to ten girls this week forced the bubbling tensions of Piershill to the surface.
That assault, and earlier episodes of crime and disorder, has spurred action from police and politicians – with plain clothes officers now being deployed to track down and snare offenders.
The girl escaped with a swollen face and her arm in a sling but her attack awakened depressing memories of a deadly assault that occurred seven years earlier at Piershill Square West.
In May 2005, David Douglas was attacked with a chair leg before a swarming group of youths repeatedly stamped on his head and left him dying on the street.
The victim, nicknamed “Disco Dave”, had been out celebrating his 25th birthday when he leapt from a bus and waded into a gang of youths who had been taunting and mocking him from the street.
A local takeaway worker, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals, spoke mournfully of the fatal beating that devastated the Douglas family but said things in the area had never been worse.
“We have constant problems with gangs of young people roaming around creating noise and scaring our customers.
“I think it’s getting worse here and it’s terrible at the weekend.
“They pull rubbish out of our bin and throw it into the shop or set fire to the bins themselves. They come screaming into the shop or hang around outside and pull down the shutters.
“One time, our driver was trying to make a delivery and they began to lay across the bonnet to prevent him driving away.
“We have even seen them picking up bricks and throwing them at the parked cars.
“When we call the police they say they only have one person on duty for this area and to take down a description.
“But that is pointless because with these hoods they all look the same.”
Residents in Piershill spoke of a rising tide of youth violence in the weeks leading up to Sunday’s attack and said, against a backdrop of brawls and skirmishes, it may only be a matter of time before something more serious happens.
It was also suggested that youngsters from Northfield, Portobello and Lochend were fuelling the trouble, leaving people scared to “walk the streets”.
Kenny MacAskill, the local MSP and Scotland’s Justice Secretary who has his constituency office in the area, concedes that while youth disturbance peaks and troughs in several parts of Edinburgh, Piershill seems to have become the latest hot spot for congregating youths.
“This problem is currently affecting Piershill, and we have to make sure authorities are doing what they can to protect the vast majority of residents, who are good people.
“I am well aware of the issues and many constituents have come to me with complaints about harassment and it’s unacceptable.”
He added: “The police deal speedily and efficiently with the most serious of crimes but this lower-level crime makes live miserable for many in the area.
“What happened to the girl is appalling and for her it must have been distressing.
“I have had assurances that the relevant authorities are doing what they can to increase their presence and take action.”
Mr MacAskill warned council tenants whose children were caught misbehaving risked their tenancy under current regulations.
“It’s important that the parents should realise that they have an obligation to look after their children, and if they are council tenants it’s a breach of their tenancy agreement if their children behave in an antisocial manner.”
Stefan Tymkewycz, ward councillor and ex-police officer, revealed that at a neighbourhood summit on this week examining what action to take in Piershill it was decided that increased police and council resources would be drafted to quell disturbances.
“It was agreed to make Piershill a priority area and to put additional resources in there in light of recent incidents. Hopefully, these additional resources will have a positive effect on this small number of youths.
“Only today I saw a questionnaire that will be delivered to people who have suffered antisocial behaviour and offers a positive outcome for the victim.”
A police spokesman said: “We are aware of concerns regarding antisocial behaviour in the Piershill area and we have been addressing these concerns through a structured programme of targeted activity.
“As part of this programme we have increased our presence in the area through additional joint patrols carried out by the local Safer Neighbourhood Team and Community Safety Wardens, and we have deployed plain clothes officers to identify and deal with offenders.
“This approach has resulted in progress being made in terms of calls related to antisocial behaviour, and we are committed to working with the community to ensure that this trend continues.”