Local roots for anti-crime scheme

IN October 1982, Det Insp Mick Cole took part in a visit to Illinois. His eye was caught by a scheme being run by a police sergeant in a community relations department.

IN October 1982, Det Insp Mick Cole took part in a visit to Illinois. His eye was caught by a scheme being run by a police sergeant in a community relations department.

Working from a single room, the officer was taking information from the public about crimes. The difference was this information was anonymous, and callers who gave information that led to an arrest put themselves in line for a reward payout from money given by local businesses.

Now a retired superintendent, Mr Cole said: “I was impressed by the scheme because the telephone kept ringing with information. I came back to England and submitted a report suggesting we try it out in Yarmouth.”

His letter won the approval of his chief superintendent, Peter Howse, and Norfolk's then chief constable, George Charlton.

Another letter was sent to local businesses asking for support and pointing out how successful the scheme had been in America. It soon gained the support of Jim Carter, who was taking charge of the local branch of Woolworths.

Mr Carter said: “Businesses were concerned at the levels of crime and keen to see any methods tried that would be successful. I thought Crimestoppers was a brilliant idea and a good way of getting the community involved in crime-fighting.”

Most Read

Next step was a meeting at Yarmouth police station of businesses, police and the media.

To be a success over here, Crimestoppers had to publicise its crime appeals. That is where the late Peter Ware came in. At the time he was editor of the the Great Yarmouth Mercury, and he agreed to provide space in the paper.

It proved the ideal fuel for a Crimestoppers trial run.

“We felt that between £1,500 and £2,000 would be required to cover a trial period, and local businesses were asked to pay a one-off fee of £30 and then £10 a month into a Crimestoppers account,” Mr Carter said. The Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce became heavily involved.

Each week the Mercury publicised a serious crime and gave a local number for people to call with information on any crime.

Mr Cole said: “We had a collator's office at the police station which was staffed from 9am until 5pm and had an answering machine outside these times. I think there were mixed feelings among police officers at the time.

“Crimestoppers needed brave policing. Anonymous information is not evidence, and officers had to start their investigations virtually from scratch.”

For all the misgivings, the number of calls began to increase rapidly and arrests followed. It was obvious the scheme was becoming a success story when it attracted the attention of the Metropolitan Police.

In 1985, PC Keith Blakelock was murdered during the riots on the Broadwater Farm estate in London and the police appealed for information, announcing that people knew who had been responsible but were frightened of coming forward.

Businessman Michael Ashcroft (now Lord Ashcroft and chairman of the trustees of Crimestoppers) offered to provide the police with money for a reward to encourage somebody to give information.

Talks with the Met's commissioner led to the decision to pick up on the work done in Yarmouth. And, in 1988, the Community Action Trust - later to become Crimestoppers - was established.

By 1995 the charity covered the whole of the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, all overseen by county-based committees working alongside their local police forces.

The concept has since been adopted by various European countries, the Caribbean, countries in the South-Western Pacific and Australia.

In the UK it goes from strength to strength. To date, almost 85,000 arrests have been made as a result of information supplied to Crime-stoppers and £100m of goods have been seized, along with £145m of drugs.

In Norfolk and the rest of East Anglia the success continues. In the past year 624 calls were made in the county leading to an average of three arrests a month. About half of all calls relate to drugs offences, but last year there were also four vital calls relating to rapes. A total of £30,000 has been paid out in rewards and £1m of drugs have been seized.

t Visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org for more about Crimestoppers both locally and nationally or call Crimstoppers on 0800 555111to report a crime.