Edinburgh beat most blighted by vandals revealed

Police on the beat around Pilton. Picture: Jon Savage
Police on the beat around Pilton. Picture: Jon Savage

VANDALS target West Pilton more than anywhere else in the Capital, an Evening News investigation reveals today.

There were 239 attacks in the area over the last year – equivalent to more than four every week – with cars damaged and windows smashed.

A police beat in Sighthill, meanwhile, saw the most fireraising – though numbers are low with just 22 cases reported.

“Across the board, be it disorder, vandalism or recent motorcycle incidents, it really is a place of significant challenges for a number of reasons,” Chief Inspector Jimmy Jones said of West Pilton.

A number of prolific offenders launched “arbitrary” attacks across the area during 2016/17, said Ch Insp Jones.

Recent crimewaves included 45 acts of vandalism committed by one perpetrator last Hallowe’en – smashing car windows in the Ferry Road area.

And in May, a group of three youths committed 25 attacks on cars, bus stops and street benches.

A man has been arrested and charged for the Hallowe’en attacks while the three youths have been reported to the Children’s Reporter for the May spree.

Vandalism in the Forth beat that covers West Pilton rose slightly in the last year but was down more than a third on the five-year average.

Other beats high on the list of attacks include Sighthill, Craigentinny and the New and Old Towns.

Ch Insp Jones attributed a five-year drop in vandalism across the city to initiatives like Stronger North – bringing police, council and other agencies together to tackle problems.

“Disorder and vandalism comes from a fairly narrow community of offenders in that area,” he said.

“That’s why Stronger North is really effective. It’s able to target those offenders and how we reach them.”

Perpetrators are often under 16 and some as young as ten, prompting a rethink from officers on how to deal with them.

“Because of their age and circumstances, there’s a different set of considerations,” he added. “Our community officers will conduct home visits and go into schools to remind individuals of what we call acceptable behaviour contracts.”

Firefighters help educate youngsters on the dangers of fireraising while the council are also called in with families risking eviction for repeat offending, said Ch Insp Jones.

But while persistent vandals are dealt with, officers also work to build bridges with youngsters, inviting them into the station to see police work in action.

“It’s part of the acceptable behaviour process,” he said. “We’ll seek to engage the youths themselves to acknowledge the damage caused and change their behaviour.

“If there’s a repeat or, for that matter, a particularly high value of damage, then it’s a different consideration and we’ll take a prosecution approach.”

Two Sighthill beats topped the fireraising list – though Chief Inspector Helen Harrison attributed the doubling of cases to more being reported rather than happening.

“We work more closely with the fire service,” she said. “Five years ago the fire service will have just gone and extinguished it but we’re getting more involved where there’s criminality.”

Ch Insp Harrison praised the work of Operation Mudskipper last August in targeting fireraising in the area.

“In June and July there was an increase in mattresses, sofas and other disused items getting set alight,” she said.

Cases were investigated by detectives going door-to-door and trawling CCTV, leading to five arrests and charges brought. Uniformed officers were also deployed on 
high-visibility patrols as part of the crackdown.

Preventative measures included the council supplying skips for unwanted furniture to prevent it being dumped in stairwells and set alight.

“When people are getting rid of furniture, it’s more difficult in blocks of flats which you don’t see in other areas,” said Ch Insp Harrison.

She blamed a lack of forensic evidence in vandalism and fireraising cases for low detection rates.

“We rely on witnesses having seen it or CCTV,” said Ch Insp Harrison. “It’s about people being vigilant and reporting suspicious activity – that’s what leads to successful prosecutions.”

Crime prevention advice is available at www.scotland.police.uk