“Shottingham.” You’d heard the rumours before you arrived in Nottingham, but you’ve probably learnt by now that gun crime isn’t generally the main issue that we have to contend with whilst living here. Lenton is teeming with students and almost every house has laptops, televisions, cameras and mobile phones in abundance, making it the perfect playgroundfor criminals. On the Nottinghamshire Police Crime Map System figures state that over the final three months of 2009, the average number of crimes per month was 68.3. This is more than two a day and, of course, these are just the crimes that were reported. A related statistic may surprise you – the number at our seemingly safe, guarded University Park over the same period was slightly higher, at 69.7.
Student areas up and down the country are subject to crime thanks to thieves taking advantage of badly-protected houses filled with adolescents and electricals. This does not, however, explain why the average number of reported household burglaries per thousand in Nottingham is 15.1, compared to the national average of just 4.3. This means you’re three and a half times more likely to get burgled here than in any other town outside the capital; this is a figure that, according to Endsleigh, is reflected heavily in the cost of home insurance in the city.
Burglaries are now so ingrained in daily life that if it happens on your street, you barely flicker an eyelid. In 2006, Kimbolton Avenue was labelled the most burgled street in Britain by two national newspapers. There were no official statistics for this but it seems fairly likely, thanks perhaps to the alleyway that runs past the back of every house on the street, allowing for a quick criminal getaway. I spoke to a previous resident of Kimbolton who lived there with three other girls. Their house was burgled and ransacked; despite the fact that all of the tenants and their friends were in the house, the burglars managed to get in through a window which had been left ajar. This incident is not an isolated one – up to 25% of burglaries occur when premises are entered through open windows or doors. Accommodation and Community Officer, Sam Wilkinson, talked to me about a Crime Prevention Campaign launched by the Students’ Union, which aims to make students aware of this issue. He explained that by “trying to get students to change their attitudes early on in university life, we hope that vigilance towards crime is something that sticks with them.” The bad publicity that Kimbolton received in the years prior to the girls’ incident compelled the council to take action; hence the huge surveillance cameras that now watch over the length of the street like hungry vultures. So perhaps an issue needs to reach national newspapers before it is addressed?
However, there are ways in which we are able to take the safety of our possessions into our own hands. A current third year student, who has been a Kimbolton resident for two years, suggested to me that although some people have been unlucky (his next door neighbours were recently burgled), really “you just need to be switched on about locking up your stuff.” This particular student also suggested that whilst most people in Lenton have probably come across the ‘worst street in Britain’ stories, in reality “the road is quite safe as long as you’re careful and the cameras definitely make it feel safer.” Clearly taking part in the initial crime prevention is an important role that we need to play.
The blame for the high crime rate in our area is often placed upon the naiveté of eighteen year olds who come from ‘nice backgrounds’ and give opportunistic burglars every chance possible by leaving doors and windows unlocked. This may well be the case, as Wilkinson says, “students bring a lot of wealth into the city and are inexperienced at living away from home; this therefore makes them perfect targets for opportunistic crime.” The guidance that we receive largely derives from common sense, advising us to lock our doors, to stay alert and not to be flashy with expensive valuables. The suggestion that SmartWater is used to mark property (a microscopic UV forensic signature that police can use to trace items back if they are recovered) is all very well and good but does nothing to prevent a burglary taking place – and once possessions are stolen, they are normally sold on quickly, making their recovery unlikely.
It seems that in many cases, criminals are treated fairly leniently by the judicial system – shown in 2008 by the burglar who, with over one hundred convictions, was allowed to go back to live in his home in Lenton just doors down from a house he had previously burgled. How someone escapes a jail sentence after being caught one hundred times – his total number of offences may far surpass this – is beyond me. Of course there is no inevitability that this man will re-offend; however, I do wonder how measures promoted on our University website encouraging us to ‘Love our New Stuff’ can be taken seriously in this sort of situation, where a person who has repeatedly put the community at risk is dropped right back into it.
This message has some element of truth; of course we would be stupid to live with wanton disregard for our valuables but it is futile to suggest that ‘closing our curtains’ will prevent us from being burgled, particularly if there are people living amongst us with in excess of one hundred convictions. Having said this, a number of the students I spoke to did not go to the police after they had been burgled because they were in some way to blame as a result of negligence. It is important that every crime is reported as – aside from giving the victim a greater chance of getting their stuff back – this gives the police force a better understanding of what the situation is in Lenton. Figures published on crime within the Lenton Triangle – an area which covers Canning Circus, down the right hand side of Derby Road – show that the number of burglaries here have increased by 50% between the end of 2008 and the end of 2009 and violent crime over the same time period has increased by 66.7%. The fact that many crimes go unreported means that even these rates do not portray the full extent of crime in Lenton, leaving the police unable to tackle the issues properly. The vigilance of students is an important preventative factor but this alone is not enough, as indicated by the high statistics.
Burglaries, however, are not the only thing we students need to be wary of. Violence against an individual, most notably mugging, is much more common in Nottingham, with an average 29.8 of every 1000 people experiencing it, double the national average of 15 per 1000. I spoke to a third year student who was mugged last year early in the morning on her way to the library from Lenton, and she described her incident as traumatising. She was walking along Derby Road listening to her iPod with very little cash on her, when her hood was pulled over her eyes, she was pushed against a wall and her bag snatched from her. Presumably the mugger ended up either very disappointed with his haul or, somewhat less likely, was a keen historian and had been after the books in the first place. The impact that this had on her university work was immense, something that has no benefit for the mugger but great repercussions for the victim.
This is a feeling shared by many students who have had their laptops stolen and it is often the work on there that is irreplaceable, serving as a vital reminder of the importance of backing up your work, even if just by e-mail. Another girl I spoke to was mugged on her way to campus and had her library books stolen – the library made her pay for the books after she had undergone the traumatic ordeal and still the University of Nottingham refrains from publicizing the crimes it is aware of.
Both of these girls were relatively lucky as there has previously been a prolific mugger carrying out knifepoint attacks in nearby Castle Marina, Forest Fields, Radford and Lenton. The attacker regularly waited in hiding for passers by before pouncing with a knife and demanding valuables from them. Rumour also has it that the cash point next to the Savoy cinema on Derby Road is the most ‘mugged’ cash point in Britain; this is terrifying when you consider the number of us that stop to get money out after dark before a night out. According to statistics from Nottingham Crime and Drugs Partnership, there was a 50% increase in muggings in the areas of Dunkirk and Lenton between 2008 and 2009, yet this information fails to reach our ears unless we do our own investigations.
It is a common occurrence that a weapon is used as a threat. Such was the case when in 2009 the Tesco Express of Willoughby Street, Lenton was a target of armed robbery and again, in January of 2010 when an 18 year old mugged a younger boy, punching him and threatening him with a screwdriver in Lenton Abbey. Sadly the threat was not quite as empty when a body was found in a house on Derby Grove in January of this year. This murder was linked to another, further away in Kimberley, but it begs the question: why didn’t more of us hear about this? This murder seems to be the perfect reflection of the grittiness within which we are living, blissfully unaware.
I became aware of this case thanks to a friend who lives on the same road updating his Facebook status, but for the droves of students not living a few doors down from the murder scene, the most they were likely to have heard about it is hearsay. Unfortunately the crime figures for Nottingham are not an enticing advert for the University, which lets the side down for what is otherwise a fantastic student-friendly city. The powers that be are all too aware of this and the threatening undercurrent of constant petty crime throughout Lenton and University Park is marketed as being on the decrease, leading us to believe that we are living in an environment that is becoming ever safer.
Nonetheless, the blame cannot be fully placed elsewhere as I discovered myself when talking to the vast number of students who have experienced burglaries. Leave your doors unlocked and, in my opinion, you may as well leave a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit out as well. Levels of crime may be on the decrease in some areas, and Lenton can be a great place to live thanks to its lively atmosphere and vibrant student community, but this is precisely why it is so often targeted by prospective criminals. We would do well to be more aware of this.