Mindless vandalism shuts Okehampton play area

Eric Partridge

The popular children’s play area in Simmons Park, Okehampton, has been forced to close until further notice by the Town Council after a spate of wanton vandalism to swings and other equipment rendered the playground unsafe.

“This was not a spontaneous attack,” park keeper James McGahey told The Moorlander. “Whoever did this knew the special tools they would need to loosen the swing seats and undo the zip wires on the cable-way as they are not just ordinary nuts and bolts. They’ve sussed out what was required beforehand and returned later to tamper with it.”

Although it would be relatively straightforward to replace the damaged fastenings, there is no guarantee that the vandals would not return and repeat the sabotage so the Town Council’s insurers have advised that the play area should remain closed indefinitely.

“Yes I could check that the equipment is okay every morning but unfortunately I don’t work seven days a week, so on a Saturday and Sunday who knows what could happen?” added Mr McGahey. “Sadly, for the moment, the playground has to remain shut for the safety of the children, which is a pity as I know how much they all enjoy the area.”

It is widely believed that the vandals are the same group of feral teenagers who have been responsible for several incidents of anti-social behaviour in the town of late and the senseless recent attack, also in Simmons Park, on a 14 year old girl which was videoed by the thugs themselves and posted on social media.
Proving it, however, is another matter.

“The problem won’t go away until Okehampton gets CCTV,” declared a mother who had promised her three young children half an hour’s playtime on the swings and slides in Simmons Park. She was incandescent with anger when she realised why the play area was closed.

The local woman, who preferred not be identified, told our reporter who had visited the site to see the damage personally: “The police know exactly who’s causing all this trouble but they do absolutely nothing. They keep saying they need evidence to convict them yet these same yobs were caught on CCTV in Red Lion Yard causing more damage the other day and nothing’s happened.

They attacked an adult recently, one of them got fined £30 and they just slapped him on the wrist. There was a video on Facebook of a poor girl being beaten up by them and which clearly identifies who these monsters are and the police still do nothing, how much evidence do they need, for heaven’s sake?”

Cllr Christine Marsh, Chairman of the Town Council’s Parks Committee was equally vociferous in her condemnation of the recent vandalism. “I am very disappointed for the innocent children and their families who are now suffering because of this latest bout of vandalism,” she sympathised. “They are the victims, all they want to do is play. They’ve endured lockdown for ages, now it’s holiday time so more and more children are around but now they’re being denied even the simple pleasure of playing in the park because of these mindless hooligans.

‘I’m afraid that to just repair this recent damage is not the answer, we need a longer term solution and that is the installation of CCTV. The parks department does have a budget for it and we were well on the way to installation. Unfortunately we encountered technical issues relating to the police access of our monitoring equipment so it has been delayed.

‘However, in light of these recent developments I shall be pursuing how to resolve this with a vengeance at our next Parks Committee meeting of the Town Council in September. This wanton anti-social behaviour in Okehampton has to stop.”

Clerk to Okehampton Town Council Emma James echoed Cllr Marsh’s comments and has asked for local help in identifying the vandals.

“I am dismayed at the lengths some people will go to and do damage to the equipment which might cause injury to users. It is disappointing that steps have had to be taken to close the whole area, particularly during the summer holidays when visitors are around and so soon after the closure of the area due to the coronavirus  lockdown.”

Anyone with information is urged to contact the police quoting Crime Reference CR 066417/20 by calling either 101, or visiting
www.devon-cornwall.police.uk/contact where you can email or webchat.

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