A teenager’s 10-month campaign of harassment and criminal damage on the trams led to ‘more than 200 reports’ to transport bosses. The behavior of just one 15-year-old single-handedly trebled the number of incidents recorded at Rochdale interchange compared to the previous year.
Tram bosses say they were even driven to hire an outside security firm to ‘reassure’ staff and passengers around the behavior of the youth, whose rap sheet ranged from verbal abuse and harassment to criminal damage and carrying weapons.
Other reports included breaking and entering, pulling brakes on trams and venturing on to the bus interchange to ‘turn off engines’. They sometimes acted alone but also had ‘followers-on’ as their behavior had a tendency to ‘draw a crowd’. Some of the incidents took place late at night, sparking ‘safeguarding’ concerns.
READ MORE: ‘Do you know where your children are?’ Appeal to parents as kids as young as 11 fuel spike in anti-social behavior on trams and buses
Kate Green, TravelSafe boss, told the Manchester Evening News the ‘extreme’ case was the ‘worst she’d seen’ on the network. It also forms part of a bigger picture which shows a sharp uptick in youth anti-social behavior across the board, thought to have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Chief Insp Ronnie Neilson, who leads GMP’s transport unit, described the case – and a ‘chronic and acute’ increase in youth offending generally – as a ‘symptom not a cause’ of a lack of engagement and provision for young people. The youth in question, who cannot be named due to their age, is now understood to be getting the support they need to address their behaviour.
Kate Green described how the individual would ‘target’ staff members for abuse. In some cases, passengers tried to intervene. She added: “One of the biggest concerns was the impact on staff who were there to do a job and support people who were legitimately trying to use the network.”
As well as action from Metrolink, police and the council, a dedicated security team was hired to reassure staff and customers around this anti-social behavior in Rochdale for four months. the Manchester Evening News has asked Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) how much it cost to hire this firm, which is still in use to help bosses deal with issues across the network.
The bill for this financial year, including extra support for security on the transport network during football matches, came to £400,000.
Wide range of crimes committed by the youth
The offender initially came to the attention of police and the Metrolink’s TravelSafe Unit in December 2020 following a spate of incidents around Rochdale. In January 2021, staff requested that security bosses remove the teenager’s pass but following consultation with police and the local authority, it was decided they should be issued with an Exclusion Notice instead. This is a civil order banning access to a specific site.
However, their behavior continued so in February, a multi-agency meeting was held to discuss the case. Further incidents in March led to a ban from Rochdale town centre.
The following month, the youth was found to be in possession of blades and, appearing before a court in May, was given a Youth Rehabilitation Order. The youth was back on Metrolink that same day.
In June, the teenager’s behavior toward staff was said to ‘escalate’ and a TravelSafe Unit plain clothes operation led to their arrest. On September 20, a judge sentenced the youth for a range of charges – two of harassment, assault of an emergency worker, and using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour.
They were handed down a 15-month Youth Rehabilitation Order, a 12-month restraining order and a 12-month Criminal Behavior Order.
The CBO included a ban on climbing, walking, crawling, hanging or being on the outside of or on top of any building, street furniture or manmade structure anywhere in Greater Manchester, unless it has been specifically designed for climbing, they have the written permission of the owner and appropriate safety equipment is used. The order also prohibits them from riding on top of or outside of any bus or tram.
‘More complicated than young people being out of control’, cop says
Chief Insp Neilson said the case raises some big questions about young people and youth engagement in Greater Manchester.
“This is more complicated than just ‘young people are out of control,” he said. “We need to be looking at what is there for young people to do? How are partners engaging and what are the changes that need to be made to youth provision?
“At the end of the day they are young people, they make mistakes. That’s part of growing up and I don’t think the criminal justice system is the best solution for them and that wider issue needs some exploration.
“How do we respond to complex social needs? A lot of anti-social behavior is a result of issues at home or elsewhere. And that’s what we are dealing with. It’s about what the best outcome is.
“Success is not arresting somebody, success is getting young person in a secure safe environment and then they can go on to learn, grow and develop.
“What we are dealing with as an outcome is a lot of anti-social behavior and traditionally people want to see people arrested but that unfortunately is not a solution.”
Lucy Kennon , Head of Resilience and Business Continuity at TfGM, said youth offending was being felt ‘across the piece’, while Kate Green, TravelSafe Partnership Manager at TfGM said they had learned lessons from the case and were now ‘much more agile’ when it came to offenses like this.
She said they could take away passes, exclude offenders from interchanges, and ultimately look to enforce civil injunctions. She added: “We will use all the tools we’ve got, while accepting that, particularly with juveniles, we do need local partners around the table to support us.”
The Oldham and Rochdale line has suffered the most ‘higher impact’ crimes during 2021, with incidents including assaults, robberies and thefts. There has been a 45pc increase in youth and young person related incidents. In 2019, youth incidents made up 24pc of the total, increasing to 35pc in 2021.
The Airport line saw the biggest increase in youth-related incidents, up to 50pc of all reports in 2021 compared to 33pc in 2019. Although considered ‘low level’ behavior from ‘very young people’, these Airport line incidents – including emergency door handle activations which were up from 40 in 2020 to 126 in 2021 – can have a major impact on the movement of trams and on passengers. In response, there is now a dedicated security team at Wythenshawe interchange.
On the security team brought in to respond to the anti-social behaviour, a TfGM spokesman said: “Due to increased issues with crime and anti-social behavior at Rochdale we sought to introduce a dedicated security team.
“This required enhanced levels of resource and resulted in us transferring to a new security provider. We now use this provider as required to support operations across the different interchanges and bus stations.”
You can read more reports from the Manchester Courts here