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Cummunity leaders join Advertiser campaign for church safety

PUBLISHED: 15:00 06 April 2008 | UPDATED: 13:10 05 October 2010

Cannon Michael Ainsworth who has been assaulted by an Asian gung of youths at his church yard at the Highway in East London 18/03/08

Cannon Michael Ainsworth who has been assaulted by an Asian gung of youths at his church yard at the Highway in East London 18/03/08

Carmen Valino

RELIGIOUS and community leaders are due to meet to discuss ways of making the East End's churchyards safer places. They gather on April 15 to make plans to improve safety in the grounds of churches and other religious buildings

By Victoria Huntley

RELIGIOUS and community leaders are due to meet to discuss ways of making the East End's churchyards safer places.

They gather on April 15 to make plans to improve safety in the grounds of churches and other religious buildings including mosques and synagogues.

The move comes after the vicious attack on Canon Michael Ainsworth in his own churchyard at St-George-in-the-East in Shadwell on March 5, which left him with face bruises.

Canon Ainsworth's ordeal has sparked an Advertiser-led campaign to make our churchyards safe places for clergy members, worshippers and the public, which has now got backing from Tower Hamlets council.

A Town Hall spokeswoman said: "We have been looking at ways of tackling this issue and are impressed with the East London Advertiser for launching this campaign. It is an important issue."

Topics for discussion at the April 15 meeting include using CCTV to help combat yob behaviour, graffiti and other vandalism as well as violence.

But security cameras are only useful if they are enforced and followed up by the police, according to Churchwatch, the national church security group.

"The last thing we want to happen is to completely lock up the churches and churchyards," explained the organisation's Nick Tolson.

"CCTV might be the one of the solutions posed, but we find it only increases crime because it becomes more of a challenge."

Violence against clergy is increasingly common, he says, with 12 per cent having suffered some form of violence in the past year.

Work needed to be done by police community support officers to tackle anti-social behaviour and crime by gangs of youths hanging around in churchyards.

He said: "The bad behaviour needs to be challenged to break the habit of those causing the problem," Tolson adds.

"This is best done by the police who have powers under the 1860 Ecclesiastical Court Jurisdiction Act which prevents any 'indecent' behaviour in a churchyard.

"The police need to disrupt those misusing the churchyard and charge a few under this act and the problem will usually move on."

He reckons it takes two weeks of effort by police, but the gangs "quickly get fed up with being harassed."

victoria.huntley@archant.co.uk

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