‘We’re here for the forseeable’: What we learned on patrol with police in crime-ridden Arbourthorne

I was on the late shift when the news surfaced- a 12-year-old boy shot on a Sheffield estate.

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 8:16 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 3:02 pm

Originally, the police referred to the incident in Arbourthorne on January 12 as an assault.

But it was later confirmed that the boy had been caught up in a gang-related shooting while out playing by the Co-op with friends.

And just over a week later, a murder probe was launched after a man was found dead on the same estate.

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Police operation around Arbourthorne after recent shootings. Picture by Brian Eyre.

The feeling among residents, unsuprisingly, was one of horror. But there was also anger, with some arguing it took the shooting of a child for the authorities to finally sit up and take notice.

That’s why The Star along with other news outlets were invited along to a ‘day of action’ in Arbourthorne by South Yorkshire Police’s serious violent crime taskforce.

The specialist team are being deployed to the estate along with other gun and knife hotspots to carry out high-visibility activity- and community engagement is at the forefront of the operation.

At the morning briefing at the force’s operations unit today (Wednesday, January 22) Inspector Joe Hunt had a clear message: “We are here to provide a service for residents of the Arbourthorne area who are, quite rightly, concerned about these incidents. Our job is to look after them and make them feel safe.”

Police operation around Arbourthorne after recent shootings. Pictured is police sergeant Ash Franklin. Picture by Brian Eyre.

In a marked car on the way to Northern Avenue, I get chatting to officers Neil Monk and Dan Hurst. Both are passionate about the taskforce, which they proclaim ‘works’.

Suddenly we’re called to an incident on Ecclesall Road and careering down St Mary’s Gate, sirens blaring.

The call is cancelled, which I’m nonchalantly told ‘happens a lot’, and the conversation resumes while back en-route to Arbourthorne. They ask if I’m from around here.

Well, actually, I have roots in Arbourthorne. My grandma grew up there in the 1940s.

Police operation around Arbourthorne after recent shootings. Picture by Brian Eyre.

The community, which had just lived through war, was mostly poor- but proud.

My grandma paints a happy picture of the estate back then: “Gardens neat and tidy, hedges trimmed, front steps whitened and no cars parked.

“Never heard of one murder or burglary. The bobby used to come round on his bike.

“We were surrounded by farmers' fields and there was a wood nearby.

Inspector Joe Hunt briefs the Serious Violent Crime Taskforce. Picture by Brian Eyre.

“We used to play in there without any fears or worries. Different times.”

Different times, indeed. This morning more than 30 officers- including firearms support, dog handlers and off-road bike teams- have descended on the estate in a bid to tackle a wave of violent crime.

Although Sgt Ash Franklin, who I interview close to where the young boy was shot, said he wouldn’t call it a ‘crime wave as such’.

Sgt Franklin said: “Obviously, there are some issues with organised criminality in Arbourthorne and the surrounding area that have come to a head recently, and that’s why we’re here.

“But really we are just continuing with our daily business. We do this day in, day out- not just in Sheffield but across the county.”

On January 16 alone, the taskforce arrested ten people in Arbourthorne for offences such as burglary, drink driving and possession of controlled drugs.

“Basically, we’re engulfing the estate in police activity,” adds Sgt Franklin, who is spearheading the taskforce. “And importantly, along with reassuring the community, we want to influence younger generations by speaking to them and making them aware of the consequences of these types of crimes.

“We want residents to know that we are here. And we are here for the foreseeable.”

The cops are definitely here, and en-masse. I count six vehicles dotted around a clearing on Northern Avenue, along with various officers stalking the perimeter.

And they aren’t the only ones pushing for change on an estate where residents say people are ‘too busy hating each other to look at the bigger picture’.

Local councillor Ben Miskell branded the recent spike in crime 'unacceptable’, adding: “People here are saying that they’ve got a right to be able to go to the shop, walk their dog, see their relatives and go about their ordinary life without fearing being gunned down or something bad happening to them.”

He called for reinvestment in youth services, adding: “Some of the root causes are about poverty, a lack of opportunities that drive people to get involved in gangs and do drugs which creates such a tragedy for areas like Arbourthorne.”

Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh, who lives ‘round the corner’ in Norfolk Park, insisted Arbourthorne was a great area to live, and says she wants people to feel ‘confident’ in it.

At a public meeting tonight, dozens of residents turned out to speak up for their home and demand answers on what’s being done to protect its future.

We’ll never see the likes of the 1940s Arbourthorne my Grandma spoke of again.

But with a united front on this scale, it is hoped that peace in this once-proud community will somehow be restored.