HEREFORD CATHEDRAL is to be linked with an internet early-warning system after a rise in anti-social behaviour by drink and drug addicts within its precincts.
In what West Mercia Police say is a first, vergers are being given access to the website www.facewatch.co.uk, which circulates CCTV pictures of known troublemakers. At the same time, police officers are giving them training in how to handle drunks, and addicts who use the cathedral’s public lavatories for injecting drugs.
The move came after staff had to deal with discarded syringes and blood spills on at least two occasions. The Chapter Clerk, Glyn Morgan, said: “Every cathedral — and anybody who runs public loos — will know that that sort of sub-culture is out there. Because of budget cuts by the local authority, there’s a reduction in the number of toilets in town; so, regrettably, it means that those of us who have public loos are getting a higher use.
“There’s concern when needles or sharps are left lying about, or you’ve got blood when they are injecting themselves. The police have been a tremendous support, helping us put in place a programme where alerts are sent round, and training vergers in managing people on a high, so they are not at risk. It’s making sure that our vergers are safe and secure — and, also, we don’t want to put off our visitors.”
Inspector Nick Semper, who heads Hereford’s Safer Neighbourhood Teams, said: “It’s a first in my 29 years of police service. Hereford is no better or worse than most places, but we are identified as being pretty joined up about it.”
He provides two hours’ training for the vergers, which includes how to use Facewatch, a web-based scheme that was developed by a London wine-bar owner because his customers were frequently the victims of petty crime that police found difficult to solve.
“I have put my change-resistant drinkers, drug-abusers, and ASB [anti-social behaviour] perpetrators on that; so that staff can brief themselves 24/7 on their profiles and the criminal-behaviour orders, bans from city locations, and so on, that people are subject to.”
The vergers are also given training in conflict resolution, safe restraint tactics, escorting, dealing with medical emergencies, and ensuring their own personal safety. Additionally, they learn about the work done by Hereford’s Street Pastors, and the drink and drugs recovery centre which they run in the city.