The council decided to make cutbacks to the town’s CCTV cameras last year in a bid to save £250,000 to shore up its finances. Its team of CCTV operators, who monitored the cameras 24 hours a day, were made redundant as the council announced it would stop paying for the maintenance and operation of the town’s 120 security cameras. Instead, it said the cameras - located throughout the town centre, along the seafront, and in the council’s off-street car parks - would be left on, and police would still have access to them via the Sussex Police control room in Lewes.
One CCTV operator, made redundant by the council in March 2020, told the Hastings Observer she is “horrified” by the “numerous assaults happening in Hastings and St Leonards”. The woman, who does not want to give her name for fear of reprisals from criminals she has helped put in prison through her CCTV operator work, claimed she and her colleagues warned council leaders that crime would rise as a result of the cameras not being monitored.
“I worked for HBC for almost 13 years and some of my colleagues had been there for much longer. We worked 24 hours a day,” she said. “The public presume that Sussex Police monitor the cameras constantly, but due to their ever increasing workload in many towns across the south, they tended to leave Hastings to us,” she said. “Sussex Police operators were always very busy and usually can only respond to incidents that have already happened and have been reported by calls to the 999 service.
“Myself and my colleagues were lucky enough to only have one town to monitor...(We) were able to be proactive rather than the police, who are mainly reactive. We captured many, many serious crimes and also were able to stop crimes and assaults from becoming worse by spotting incidents and reporting them to the police. CCTV should be a deterrent but it no longer seems to bother offenders.”
She said her team could not detect every crime, but knew the trouble-makers from local knowledge - and the trouble hotspots. “(We) were responsible for capturing crimes such as assaults, drug dealing, armed robbery, street robbery, burglary, attempted rape, assaults on animals, criminal damage, thefts, Hastings Pier reigniting the day after the fire, and much more. We didn’t ask for recognition (although some of us received police awards for our work) we just all wanted to rid the town of crime and to help keep the streets safe. When we had our meetings within the council to tell us of our redundancies, we were all devastated. We were told that there was no funding for us and that the control room would close to save money. We also told our bosses that once the criminals knew the cameras were not being watched then crime would go up and people would get hurt.”
Hastings Borough Council has been approached for comment, but despite repeated requests has still failed to provide a statement. The Hastings Observer first approached the council over two weeks ago - on November 19.
A spokesperson for Sussex Police said: “CCTV cameras remain in place in Hastings town centre and although there is no longer an operator monitoring them 24/7, we can still access them when we need to – to view ongoing incidents, or to help us investigate incidents that have happened previously. Having numerous cameras placed around the town can also act as a deterrent for crime and anti-social behaviour. We have increased our proactive patrols in the town centre and we urge people to stop and talk with our officers if they have any concerns. Violent crime has reduced in Hastings over the past 12 months, but when it does happen we are committed to carrying out a full and thorough investigation and providing all necessary support to the victims.”
Last month, an application by French’s, a late-night bar in Robertson Street, Hastings, to temporarily extend its late night opening hours was refused following a spate of violent crimes in the town centre. Hastings Borough Council’s licensing panel refused the bid after reading a letter from Inspector Aidan Cornwall, from the Hastings Neighbourhood Policing Team. He wrote: “In the past few months we have seen the horrific rape of a male following a night out in Robertson Street Terrace, the stabbing of a vulnerable adult in the early hours in Cambridge Road, a male slashed across the face with a Stanley knife in a licensed premises, a female left with a broken wrist following an assault in Havelock Road and another male left with a bleed on the brain after being struck in the head with a hammer. Each of these attacks have left victims with life-changing injuries and are linked to the night-time economy and intoxication. Incidents like these generate fear within our community and we have seen numerous comments from residents in local papers and social media explaining how they are scared to walk in our streets.”