Gina Davidson: No excuse for police inaction

The scene of the stabbing in West Pilton. Picture: Julie Bull
The scene of the stabbing in West Pilton. Picture: Julie Bull
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IT is an age-old complaint. You need the police, you call them, if it’s not regarded as life or death, they take their time to get to you. Could be hours, could be days after the event. They issue a crime number and that is possibly the last you’ll hear.

It could be a stolen car, vandalism, a smashed window – not crimes of the century, the stuff of ordinary, solid plod-work. But to the people affected they are serious, costly and potentially very frightening.

They could also be just the beginnings of something which could escalate into a crime far worse.

It’s what happened to Jie Yu in Pilton. How many times had he and his wife called to report vandalism to their car and takeaway shop? How many times did they call to report the gangs of youths congregating outside their business, riding what many believed to be stolen motorbikes?

Too many times and yet nothing, or very little, was done.

Only when Jie was attacked in the street, suffering stab wounds to his throat and hands, did the police finally wake up to the problems faced by the ordinary, law-abiding people of Pilton.

Arrests have been made, but it’s way too late. The only thing to be thankful for is that a murder inquiry wasn’t launched and Jie looks likely to recover well.

There is no excuse for police to allow small acts to snowball into a bigger, more horrific crime. The pattern of crimes against the Yu’s business should have been noted, and more support given – even if it meant putting police officers on the beat every evening. A physical presence by police has long been known to act as a major deterrent.

Pilton is one of those Edinburgh areas which, if it’s not where you live and work, can be regarded as a place you just wouldn’t want to go. Its reputation is long-standing, but for the majority living there wholly undeserved.

Yes, it’s still a place of social deprivation despite massive housing developments and regeneration plans over decades. Yes, its schools struggle to deliver high-achievers, leaving many young people with few prospects and little to do except develop antisocial tendencies.

Yes, it has an unemployment problem due to high levels of ill-health and disability. But none of those reasons should mean the majority of those who live there deserve to be left without proper policing of their streets.

Twelve years ago Lothian and Borders police, as it then was, launched a hit squad in Pilton – and surrounding areas – to crack down on street drinking, vandalism, dangerous driving, all in a bid to reduce rising levels of youth crime.

Teams of officers were on patrol to tackle the behaviour of those causing the problems. The main thrust of the campaign was “public reassurance through high-visibility policing”, and this came after a previous six-week programme called Making the Difference, which again looked at cutting youth crime.

Both projects were very successful, but they were short-term and the problems have persisted. Ten years ago the council’s antisocial behaviour team felt forced to target Pilton, eight years ago police and council officials attempted to tackle youths terrorising people as they careered around on mini-motorbikes – yet last year a helicopter had to be sent through from the west of Scotland to try and track young people doing similar things because the issue is still ongoing. And all of this against a backdrop of knife crime, drugs and thefts.

The Yus and the rest of the law-abiding community of Pilton, who have been turning out at community meetings to demand help, deserve better. There is now a StrongerNorth campaign to try and stamp out the petty crime. It will no doubt have an immediate impact, but it can’t be a flash in the pan.

Resources need to be sustained and consistent, or in a few years time there’ll be someone else in Jie’s place. Someone maybe not quite so lucky.