Late night taxi service for Watton

LATE night drinkers could be offered a free ride home in taxis paid for by police in a bid to cut anti-social behaviour in Watton.

LATE night drinkers could be offered a free ride home in taxis paid for by police in a bid to cut anti-social behaviour in Watton.

Officers say the initiative, which they hope to launch on a trial basis soon, could see anti-social behaviour in the town cut substantially.

The idea been thought up by the Watton Safer Neighbourhood Team to combat the problem of people walking home to places on the outskirts of the town after the pubs close, a time when a high proportion of anti-social behaviour occurs.

Watton Town Council has already pledged �350 towards the scheme and both police and the council say the initiative could help protect vulnerable young people and save money which is currently spent on repairing criminal damage.

But public reaction in Watton has been mixed. While some feel it is a waste of tax payer's money others have said it will help ensure the safety of young drinkers who may get themselves into difficulty.

At a council meeting Watton Sgt Lance Ogbourne explained to town councillors that pre-paid taxis would be laid on at certain times on Friday and Saturday nights to take people short distances home and that there would be three runs each evening to areas including Lovell Gardens and other estates in town.

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Sgt Ogbourne said the aim was to catch people who would normally walk home rather than get a cab, because it was while walking home that people were at their most vulnerable and also most likely to be involved in anti-social behaviour.

He said: 'This will remove many of the stragglers left over from the pub. These people would not normally take a taxi, they would normally walk. It is these people who are susceptible to incidents of crime and can cause criminal damage.'

Roy Rudling told the council he was worried that it could be inundated with requests for taxis from other organisations.

Mayor Margaret Holmes said that on balance she backed the scheme, especially because it would help protect young women who were sometimes left drunk and vulnerable.

She clarified that the taxi drivers involved would still have the right to refuse to give rides to people who they felt were too drunk, something Sgt Ogbourne said would be the case.

'Some people will say that if they have got the money to drink then why can't they pay for a taxi? But that is not the way of the world,' she said.

Sgt Ogbourne said that if the three-month trial was a success, then more permanent funding streams would be investigated including seeking sponsorship from local pubs.

After the story was broken by the Times' sister paper the EDP on Monday TV cameras and reporters descended on Watton to canvass public opinion and the story has since made national headlines.