Boaters’ plea to police over canal crime wave

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There has been a significant increase in the numbers of muggings and boat bulgaries along the River Lea. Image: Julian Osley

The River Lea towpath has suffered a spate of boat break-ins in the past two months and residents are claiming the police have done little until now.

In an effort to clamp down Springfield Police has introduced new measures after reporting a significant increase in the number of boat burglaries and muggings in October and November, with the stretch of the Lea between Springfield Park and Millfields hit hardest. Police have increased patrols and will hold a meeting for residents affected on 3 December.

Thieves across London appear increasingly to be targeting barges. In October and November London’s canals saw 54 crimes, the majority of them boat break-ins, compared to just 11 in August and September, according to figures collected by one boater.

While there are no specific figures for River Lea, the Springfield ward, through which it runs, suffered 31 burglaries in October compared to just 35 in the three preceding months combined.

Helen Brice of Canal Watch London, a community scheme which coordinates voluntary patrols of the capital’s towpaths, said: “For the last year Canal Watch has been trying to liaise with local authorities to no avail.

“Because boaters move through areas it seems impossible for different policing teams to talk to each other about the issue.”

Police Constable Simon Reed of Springfield Police said his team was now coordinating with Canal Watch to look at how boats are secured and using social media and initiatives like ‘cuppa with a coppa’ to foster cooperation.

Reed said: “We are aware that canal boaters have felt quite distant from the police so we are doing everything we can to encourage people to approach us.”

Boater Mike Matthews, who recorded the figures, started a towpath crime survey a year ago to help those living on the canal to log crime through social media.