Much is spoken about Barton Street. To some, it’s a hub of diversity and inclusion but to others it feels dangerous and the threat of crime is too close for comfort. Journalism student John Hewitt Jones met some who live and work there for their views.
KRISHNAVENTHAN Thiyagarajah sighs quietly, grimacing as he recalls a striking incident that took place some months ago.
“Some men came in and threatened to shoot me unless I handed over cash from the till,” he said. “I asked them what they had just said, then told them to get out of my shop.”
Once the assailants realised the shopkeeper wasn’t going to give in, they apologised, claimed it was a “joke”, and left.
Occurrences like this aren’t rare in TKS Food and Wine store. According to Mr Thiyagarajah, people come into the shop every other day to steal things and intimidate him and his wife Sugi, often threatening them with racial abuse.
The business has taken such a hit from shoplifting that he’s been forced to install a comprehensive CCTV system – a large screen in front of the counter that allows him to see what’s going on in every corner of the shop.
“A woman came in here yesterday and I watched her put a can of Coke in her pocket. I grabbed her on the way out, and asked her why she was stealing things,” he said.
It was only after he played her the CCTV footage that she admitted to taking the can and gave it back.
According to the shopkeeper, several people come in to buy alcohol, and when they do come in “they’re always high on drink and drugs – the way they behave is crazy”.
It’s only 10.15am, but as Mr Thiyagarajah talks, two customers enter to purchase cans of lager. This shopkeeper isn’t the only resident frustrated by the level of antisocial and criminal behaviour in Barton Street. An owner of a halal food store who didn’t want to be named recalled the problems he’s faced since he took over the shop.
“There are always youths loitering about the street, spitting, swearing, putting off customers,” he said.
“I’ve only owned this business for six months, but it’s noticeable there are problems on the street.”
Moving to the door of the shop, he points to a second-floor window on the opposite side of the road and explains how a few months ago a woman started throwing objects at the entrance of his shop.
“Eggs, rubbish, dirty nappies… it was absolutely disgusting,” he said.
The problem has since been resolved with the help of the police, and city councillor Said Hansdot (L, Barton and Tredworth) has confirmed that the problem resident subsequently moved into different accommodation.
So, are the problems in Barton Street just caused by antisocial behaviour, or does the area suffer from more subterranean racial tensions?
Local bartender David Monaghan is adamant that the area does have a decent sense of community, and that it just needs more attention. He said: “There’s a real community feel here in the pub – there are plenty of regulars.
“The gangs loitering outside the betting shop may be intimidating for passersby, but it’s a good area. It just needs more attention from the police. You often see them patrolling the street, but they’re never here when you need them.”
Coun Hansdot also thinks the problems on the street are skin-deep.
He said: “I didn’t know we had that much of a problem. I’ve lived in the community for over 40 years and I’ve never had any problems. We should make sure people report this anti-social behaviour whenever possible and stamp it out.”
Police also insist good work is happening there and pointed to falling crime figures as their evidence.
Sergeant Tim Wood, from Gloucestershire police, said: “We are disappointed to hear Mr Thiyagarajah’s views. We have only received three reports of thefts at the shop in the last year so would actively encourage him to make contact with us to discuss his concerns and report any other incidents.
“Barton Street is a very busy main street leading into the city, which does make antisocial behaviour more likely.
“However, we work really closely with the local community to identify such issues and deal with them. For example, we have reduced antisocial behaviour in St James’ Park and in Napier Park, which were both identified as hotspots by the community over the last year.
“There is currently no information or feedback to suggest there is a particular hotspot on Barton Street.”
He added that theft by shoplifting is down by 25 per cent in Barton and Tredworth compared to this time last year.