AN Englishman’s home is his castle, the old saying goes. But, in the modern world, that epithet apparently does not extend to coverage of his boat if he happens to keep it on our stretch of the River Thames.
Increasingly, it seems, vandals and yobs are getting a free rein along the riverbanks of Surrey as our pitifully underfunded and undermanned river police presence battles to patrol the 11 miles of riverside between Molesey lock and Staines Bridge.
To be fair to the boys in blue, it was only a year or so back that there was no police presence on the river at all. The unveiling of a joint initiative between the Environment Agency and Surrey Police whereby a solitary police officer now regularly shares one of the EA launches to patrol the river does represent an improvement. But there was a time a few years back when there were several police launches based at Shepperton which regularly used to travel up and down our stretch of the river. Oh, how we could do with them now.
Evidence that the current resources are stretched nearly to breaking point is clearly seen from the number of attacks on boats that have beset the area in recent months. Several boats have been vandalised – most recently two cruisers that were set alight and cut adrift from Hamhaugh Island at Shepperton and ended up wrecked against one of the newly-refurbished weirs. Boatsheds have been torched, outboard motors regularly go missing from the transoms of pleasure boats and it’s almost got to the stage where weary boat owners expect some kind of vandal-fuelled disaster to have befallen their boats when they go down to inspect them.
Now, I don’t intend to get into a discussion about what I think should happen to the morons who take pleasure in damaging or destroying other people’s property because I’m going to end up sounding like one of the ‘stick ’em in the Army – bit of discipline that’s what they need’ brigade.
But I do think that we have a right to expect that our police will take as much care guarding our property on the river as they do on dry land.
If that means the Police Authority have to allocate more funds to provide additional officers and lease additional patrol craft then I really don’t see they can put up much of an argument against doing so – isn’t that why we pay part of our ever-escalating council tax each year? Additionally, all boat owners pay non-trivial sums to the Environment Agency each year in the form of launch licence fees so why can they not devote some of those funds to providing additional patrol boats for the joint use of their own operatives and the police?
When spring eventually decides to reveal itself, I’m looking forward to going down to my own floating castle to relax and enjoy the tranquility of the river.
Providing, of course, that somebody hasn’t wrecked it in the meantime…