Published: 00:01, 25 February 2019
| Updated: 07:49, 25 February 2019
Kent's catapult crime capital has been revealed – with incidents almost trebling in a borough over the last three years.
Statistics released by police show Ashford has become a hotspot for these offences, according to an investigation by KentOnline's sister paper the Kentish Express.
Of the 80 slingshot reports made in the county last year, 27 of them were in Ashford – compared to only 10 in the district in 2016.
Just last week a dad was left with horrific facial injuries after being set upon by a group of catapult-wielding youths.
Anthony Bass was driving his white Ford KA down Cheeseman's Green Lane in Sevington, Ashford, when he spotted a group of youngsters in the middle of the road.
He stopped his car and spoke to the group but was then hit in the face by an object believed to have been launched by a catapult.
Angry residents say they are getting tired of the attacks, which have seen windows smashed, animals injured and even a cyclist hurt by a rock in Shadoxhurst.
It is not illegal to own or carry a catapult unless a solid link can be found between the carrier and a crime, but there are now calls for a change in the law.
Police say most reported incidents involve children.
Another incident was recorded last Wednesday, when a bird was shot at in Brookfield Court.
Last month, a man reported being fired at by a catapult on January 8, after trying to stop a person taking a scooter from outside a home in Mortimer Close, South Ashford.
The victim suffered a minor injury to his shoulder and the window of a property was smashed.
In August, a cyclist in Shadoxhurst suffered cuts and swelling to the head when she was hit by a catapult-fired rock in Church Lane, near the junction with Nickley Wood Road.
In a separate incident a month later, a 16-year-old boy from the town was arrested on September 21 on suspicion of attempted criminal damage after a catapult was used to fire an object at a window in Kingsnorth Road.
Police say eight incidents involving slingshots were then reported over a three-day period between December 10 to 13.
They were in Victoria Park, Green Fields Lane, Running Foxes Lane, Hoxton Close, Knoll Lane and Buxford Lane.
Mersham resident Karen Smith says she will have to pay £200 to repair a bedroom window after her house was targeted just after Christmas.
She said: “I was alone in the room working on my laptop, away from the window thankfully, and my five-year-old daughter was asleep in her room.
“Thankfully the incident didn’t wake her and I told her a bird damaged the window. She would have been very scared indeed had she known the truth.
“Having a stone smash my window when I was home alone without my husband was a frightening experience.”
Mark Street, from Ashford, who was subjected to a suspected attack in the town, says he thinks catapult crime should be taken “much more seriously”.
He said: “Rightly or wrongly, it feels like the police treat catapult attacks less seriously than other forms of violent crime. At the very leastcatapults should be confiscated and the names of those carrying them recorded by the police.
'There is clearly a minority who are breaking the law by causing criminal damage and risking public safety...' - Inspector Jason Atkinson
“There is a call to see carrying them as a form of intent in my view. If there is any proof of wrongdoing, surely such attacks should carry a custodial sentence?
“The law exposing a huge loophole with these weapons as they seem to fall between the cracks, even though they can cause life-changing injuries and even death.
“Ultimately these things should be classed as offensive weapons as they can cause as much damage as knives.”
Inspector Jason Atkinson from the community safety unit said: "We’ve seen an increase in the number of reports of catapults being used to damage property in Ashford and this is something we are taking seriously.
"While it’s not illegal to own or carry a catapult, and most people use them safely, there is clearly a minority who are breaking the law by causing criminal damage and risking public safety.
"In 2018 we received 27 reports of criminal damage and assault, which all reference catapults being seen or used. This is more than double the amount of similar reports in 2016.
"Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells have also seen a rise in reports over the past three years. In most cases the suspects are described as young people, therefore we urge children and their parents to give consideration regarding how these toys are being used.
"Our officers have the power to stop and search anyone we believe is carrying a catapult and suspected of using it to cause damage or harm. Anyone caught will risk prosecution.
"I would also like to take this opportunity to thank members of the Ashford community who have already given us very useful information and descriptions of potential suspects, which is valuable to our enquiries.
"Our police community support officers will be visiting local schools this year to talk about anti-social behaviour including the dangers of using catapults.
"Anyone with new information or who finds themselves a victim of this type of crime should contact Kent Police in the first instance. Any CCTV, dashcam or other information, if shared with us quickly, could be fundamental in us locating the offenders.
"Please call our dedicated appeal line with any information that could assist our existing enquiries on 01843 222289. If you want to report a new crime please always call 101 or 999 in an emergency."