Colchester public meeting on June 25
Nick Alston opened Wednesday evening’s public meeting in Colchester by expressing his great sadness at the recent murders of Nahid Almanea and James Attfield, and offering his sincere and heartfelt condolences to their families, friends and all who knew and loved them. These sentiments were shared by everyone present.
These awful crimes understandably dominated discussion at the public meeting, and the Police and Crime Commissioner ensured that key individuals from the neighbourhood policing team and specialist investigative teams were present to answer questions from the audience.
The PCC introduced Det Chief Supt Steve Worron, one of the investigative leads on the murder cases, to provide the meeting with the latest updates. There was also an opportunity for members of the public to ask questions.
Det Chief Supt Worron spoke of the distress and sadness both he and his officers felt at the killing of Saudi Arabian student Nahid Almanea, who was a guest in our country, and at the murder of local man James Attfield just a few weeks earlier.
Det Chief Supt Worron stated that hundreds of officers are working tirelessly to find the killer or killers of both Nahid and James, and to keep the Colchester community safe while the investigations are ongoing. He thanked the community for the information and support they have been providing Essex Police, which has seen over 600 calls from the public with information in the last week. He also encouraged everyone to keep providing officers with any information – no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.
He particularly asked anyone who was in the Salary Brook Trail area between 10am and 11am on Tuesday June 17, and may have seen something that could help the investigation, to get in touch.
Members of the public can contact the Major Investigation Team 24 hours a day with any new information on 01245 282103 or at [email protected], or alternately contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
There were a number of questions from the audience around how long the increased numbers of police officers patrolling the area would be in place. Chief Supt Carl O’Malley and Colchester District Commander Chief Insp Richard Phillibrown assured the meeting that current policing numbers would be in place for the foreseeable future, and that any changes would be determined entirely by the progress of the investigation and would be carefully risk assessed.
Chief Supt O’Malley explained that there are currently over one hundred additional officers patrolling Colchester, and that they would be in place for as long as there was an operational reason and need for them to be there. He also explained that any significant change in the number of officers patrolling the area would be undertaken in consultation with the Community Safety Partnership, councillors and MPs acting on behalf their communities.
The PCC asked the public to ‘be alert, not alarmed’, and emphasised the importance of communities looking after each other at times like this. He urged people particularly to look out for elderly or vulnerable members of their community, and to seek to avoid travelling alone in especially isolated areas.
Several members of the audience expressed their thanks to the police for the sensitive and balanced way they have approached the investigation and engagement with the local community.
There was a question regarding the Essex County Council Part-Night Lighting scheme, and Det Chief Supt Worron confirmed that Essex Police had made specific representation to the County Council so that lighting remained on in parts of Colchester during the night while the investigation is ongoing. This is being consistently reviewed.
The PCC added that he was encouraging Essex Police to gather detailed and meaningful evidence around crime both before and after the introduction of Part-Night Lighting, and share this with a national project called LANTERNS. This would ensure that there was a proper evidence base. The PCC said that Essex County Council had always responded quickly to operational requests by Essex Police for lights to be turned on in a particular part of the county, and he was grateful for this.
A member of the audience with links to international student bodies in Africa and the Middle East described his conversations with colleagues, and the fact that Nahid’s murder has had a global impact. He suggested that additional work could be done by the police and local community safety partners to support, educate and build confidence in international student communities in Essex, especially those who may have a negative perception of policing based on their experience in other countries. Chief Insp Phillibrown recognised the concerns, and committed to continue working closely with the University and the local community. The PCC, who has been speaking with the Vice Chancellor of the University of Essex regularly in recent days, reiterated how important it was to ensure that international students and visitors understand how to contact the police and stay safe.
The PCC then invited Colchester District Commander Richard Phillibrown to provide an update on local crime trends and planned changes to the local policing model. The Chief Inspector stated that the new policing model would provide more dedicated locally managed police resources to local communities, and ensure that local teams were seeing local issues and investigations through from arrest to charge.
Chief Insp Phillibrown added that there was an encouraging decrease of over 16 per cent in house burglaries in Colchester. A detailed briefing about crime trends can be seen here. Chief Insp Jason Scrivener also spoke to explain the police and partnership work being undertaken to help keep Colchester’s vibrant night life safe.
One crime type that had increased significantly in the district of Colchester was serious sexual offences. Det Insp Terry Balding explained the wider context and the process of investigation to the audience. Investigations of serious sexual offences are entirely victim-led with no performance targets other than care of the victim. Det Insp Balding was pleased to report that both the reporting rate and the solved rate of serious sexual crimes has increased, showing more confidence in victims reporting these upsetting and highly intimate crimes.
After praising the professional work of detectives investigating serious sexual offences, the PCC expressed some concern that the number of serious sexual offences solved was 18 per cent. Det Insp Balding agreed, and explained that the extremely personal and complicated nature of these crimes often results in victims choosing not to press charges or seek further action against the perpetrator. He explained that particularly in cases of historic abuse – which are being reported to police more often since the Jimmy Savile case in particular – the recovery of forensic evidence to secure conviction is particularly challenging. Det Insp Balding and Nick Alston encouraged victims of all crime to have the confidence to speak to Essex Police and report crime.
The PCC also asked the lead for community initiatives and Colchester Community Safety Partnership, Melanie Rundle, to give a brief overview of their priorities and the work they are doing with Essex Police and partners to tackle and prevent crime. This includes the ‘Reduce The Strength’ initiative aimed at persuading licensed retailers to voluntarily remove cheap high-strength alcohol from their shelves, or discuss alternative ways of making the purchase of such items less attractive. Melanie described her joint strategy with the District Commander to increase visibility of the Community Safety Partnership, to provide more opportunities for engagement, problem-solving and reassurance with the public.
Chief Insp Richard Phillibrown described the increasing success of the ‘Operation Homeguard’ partnership, which has been partly funded by the PCC, and involves members of the local community coming together to patrol specific areas and help keep communities safe. Nick Alston expressed his admiration for everyone who undertook roles like this, and expressed his commitment to do more work to enhance the level of citizen participation in community safety and reassurance activity.
The PCC thanked all who had attended, and gave special thanks to the police officers who had taken time out of the ongoing murder investigations to speak directly with members of the local community. He reiterated his conviction that whether in rare and horrific cases such as murder, or other areas of crime and antisocial behaviour, the community had a key role to play in tackling and preventing crime by remaining united and strong.
For the latest information and appeals about the ongoing investigations into the murders of both James Attfield and Nahid Almanea, please visit: www.essex.police.uk