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Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore on his recent night-time tour of Bury St Edmunds

Bury St Edmunds’ night-time economy has been in the news lately, largely because of the unfortunate misdemeanours of the actress Jessie Wallace (Cat in BBC EastEnders) where she was arrested in the early hours of Sunday morning in St Andrew’s Street, on suspicion of assaulting a police officer and drunk and disorderly conduct but was released without charge after receiving a conditional caution. It is nonetheless gratifying that an unreserved apology was forthcoming regarding her unacceptable behaviour.

Ironically, the previous evening I was in Bury St Edmunds seeing for myself how the police and partners deal with the night-time economy.

I visited various premises in the town centre alongside the Constabulary, West Suffolk Council’s licensing team, the Business Improvement District (BID) and the Bury Free Press. It was the hottest day of the year – a real scorcher, and it was hardly surprising so many people were out enjoying themselves and feeling rather thirsty!

Tim Passmore, front left, at the Suffolk Police Night Time Economy event. Picture: Tamika Green
Tim Passmore, front left, at the Suffolk Police Night Time Economy event. Picture: Tamika Green

The hospitality industry is an important sector for Suffolk’s economy and particularly so in Bury St Edmunds. The county’s deserved reputation for hospitality excellence, built on some of the finest food and drink producers in the nation and the wonderful variety of clubs, pubs and restaurants in the town means there is something available in abundance to cater for all tastes and preferences. Whilst it has been so difficult for many businesses due to the pandemic, it is very gratifying to see venues fully open again and looking forward to a much more prosperous future despite the current economic and geo-political challenges.

Keeping crime levels low and keeping visitors and patrons safe is fundamental for our tourist industry in Suffolk and clearly good policing has a key role to play. Realistically, multi-agency approaches work more effectively, so I was especially pleased the visits to all the premises were conducted on a co-operative multi-agency basis. It was also an excellent opportunity to see at first-hand what happens and speak to patrons, staff and management to hear their experiences, expectations and any concerns and therefore anything as Police and Crime Commissioner, I can do to help.

Overall, we visited seven premises and the team was very grateful to have such a warm welcome at every place, especially as many locations were so busy. They all said they appreciated the additional police presence at busy times, which was understandable, as we all know how reassuring an enhanced uniformed presence is, which includes officers of the Suffolk Special Constabulary.

It was very hectic for those working behind the bar, but it was quite clear to me that bar staff are aware of the need to lookout for signs of distress and concern amongst customers, with a real focus on women’s safety. Bar staff play an important role in initiatives such as Ask Angela – which is where women feeling unsafe can go to the bar and ask for Angela – which is a sign to the bar-staff that this person needs protection.

Equally, it’s important that punters who have had too much to drink are politely asked to leave or, in some cases, refused admission. Competent front door security, I am sure, do enhance the overall visitor experience and what a pity a minority of individuals sometimes spoil the occasion for others and themselves – it really isn’t necessary. I take my hat off to the security staff and bar tenders for all they do.

During the last year there have been a number of allegations about drink spiking. This can be very difficult to prove but help is at hand with patrolling officers carrying testing kits and rubber bottle caps to crack down on this awful and unacceptable behaviour. In other parts of the county the police are working with night clubs to conduct hand drug swabs as a condition of entry – something I fully support; it demonstrates the force is always willing to look at fresh approaches for public safety in the night-time economy.

There is always more that can be done to support the night-time economy and improving the visitor experience. I will be travelling over to Bury St Edmunds again very soon to meet representatives of the BID to develop further plans which will make visiting this iconic Suffolk town an even more pleasurable experience – something we all need!