AS REGULAR readers of this column will know, I deplored the decision by Surrey Police to remove the only officer dedicated to patrolling our stretch of the Thames back in August.
Boat owners, householders and businesses all argued that the redeployment of the excellent PC Jim Halstead was a retrograde step making everyone who lives by, or uses, the river more vulnerable. It now seems unlikely that Surrey Police will do an about turn and re-instate PC Halstead, which is a sorry state of affairs.
But with the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington having passed only last month, it is perhaps also worth while considering that there may be more dangers associated with an unprotected River Thames, than first meets the eye.
I’ve spoken recently to Acting Detective Sergeant Mick Coulson who works for the police’s Protective Services department and he points out that anywhere in the country with access to the sea could be vulnerable from another viewpoint – illegal immigration, drug-trafficking and people smuggling. If that seems a little far-fetched, just bear with me.
Every month, the Metropolitan Police’s Thames Division stops and searches a large number of boats coming up the Thames towards central London. Some are returning from trips down to the Medway or other coastal inlets but many are arriving from the Continent and, indeed, potentially from further afield.
The number of boats stopped represents but a small percentage of the total number of boats coming up the Thames and many of them are heading for marinas and moorings on our stretch of the river.
Just think: we have Penton Hook Marina, the largest marina in Europe, on our doorstep. There are also Shepperton, Thames Ditton and Walton marinas along with Bates Wharf in Chertsey. All of these locations are – or could be – possible points of entry into the UK and at the present time, are largely unprotected.
The police are taking a close look at this situation right now and hope shortly to be able to introduce something called “Project Kraken” in Surrey. That’s a kind of neighbourhood watch on the water with local people urged to contact the police about anything unusual going on in their area. That might include odd comings and goings from boats at strange times, unfamiliar visitors repeatedly watching the area – indeed, anything suspicious.
DS Coulson also tells me Surrey Police are hoping to step up their Neighborhood liaison with Protective Services and local officers, encouraging targeted patrols, personal visits to marinas and boat yards and establishing key points of contact amongst river users to provide help and reassurance.
Project Kraken will hopefully bring everyone together in order to talk with each other regularly and provide regular Police information about crime patterns and security concerns.
DS Coulson said: “We have not forgotten the Thames, in fact we have stepped up our game and are providing positive help and assistance. It is a real shame, due to budget constraints, we have no river presence, but we are doing everything possible otherwise and that’s a message I would like to get across to the public.”
In order for Project Kraken to work effectively, it needs to be effectively coordinated – and precisely how that is to be done is still under discussion at the moment. The police are also looking at security of our marinas and are, for the first time, providing advice from counter terrorist security specialists.
I am slightly encouraged that the police have not, as some feared, decided to ignore the river as a potential source of trouble. It’s also nice to know That DS Coulson who is instigating the work around Project Kraken, is also a boat owner himself, an RYA powerboat and first aid instructor, at his own club.
Whether this initiative results in a returned police presence on the 30 kilometres of the Thames that run through Surrey remains to be seen, but when you consider the dangers, it is surely a situation that merits urgent investigation and action.