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KentOnline investigation reveals almost 100 crimes in Dane John Gardens in Canterbury

Twelve women have been raped or sexually assaulted in a crime-hit park in the last two years - but not a single suspect has been charged.

Alarming figures uncovered by KentOnline reveal the attacks were carried out in Canterbury’s Dane John Gardens in 2020 and 2021.

There were 10 sexual assaults and two rapes recorded in the park in 2020 and 2021
There were 10 sexual assaults and two rapes recorded in the park in 2020 and 2021

One of the cases remains under investigation, but for the other 11 no one has ever faced prosecution.

Worryingly, the two rapes and 10 sexual assaults were among 94 crimes recorded in the city park across the two-year-period.

The shocking scale of the lawlessness has been uncovered by KentOnline using the Freedom of Information Act.

Our investigation revealed an average of 47 crimes recorded each year - compared to 15 just five years ago.

Among the catalogue of offences in 2020 and 2021 were 65 for violence, including 30 assaults, six robberies and three attempted robberies.

No suspect has been identified by police in almost half of the crimes, with just seven resulting in someone being charged.

Cllr Michael Dixey - whose ward covers the Dane John Gardens - says the crime figures make for 'grim reading'
Cllr Michael Dixey - whose ward covers the Dane John Gardens - says the crime figures make for 'grim reading'

Westgate ward city councillor Michael Dixey (Lib Dem) says the figures make for "grim reading".

"It's dreadful, and the thing that makes it worse is the prosecution rate, which is disgraceful," he said.

"The message it gives to me is that we urgently need these extra cameras and improved lighting, which the council seems to be dragging its feet on when there needs to be more urgency.

"I have been banging on about better lighting for the past five years, but there has been a lot of buck passing between the city and county council on it.

"Understandably, the people living in the Dane John fear it is tarnishing the reputation of the gardens.

"But you can't get away from the statistics, which should be reported."

As far back as 2013, the Gazette has told how the "showpiece gardens have become a magnet for violence, gang crime and drugs".

In January, a reporter spent time in the Dane John late at night, where he was verbally abused and threatened by a gang of youths.

A taxi driver he spoke to at the park's gates said: "At night-time it’s not safe. It has had a lot of crime over the last few years. We’ve heard a lot of stories about things going on there, even rape.

“A lot of people hang around in there drinking, taking drugs. Customers have told me that you could get mugged in there, get abused, beaten up."

A young woman, walking arm-in-arm with a friend towards Canterbury East Station, told our reporter: "It’s known you never walk through here by yourself."


Police figures show five women were sexually assaulted in Dane John in 2020, and the same the following year.

In half of the cases a suspect was identified, but a lack of evidence led to police not being able to take any action.

Two rapes were also recorded in 2020.

In the July of that year a 17-year-old boy was arrested in connection with one of the reports, but later released without charge.

KentOnline understands the victim in the other case was reluctant to speak to police.

Such incidents have led to the park being branded a "no-go zone" at night.

One of the last crimes recorded in 2021 was a robbery on New Year’s Eve, when a man was targeted by a group of up to 15 teenagers.

They threatened to assault the victim, forcing him to hand over cash and his bank card, and also attacked two of his friends.

Three months earlier, a gang of up to 12 teenagers launched a vicious and unprovoked attack on three men in the park in the early hours.

One of them was kicked unconscious on the ground and two of his friends suffered serious cuts and bruises as they tried to protect him.

An injury suffered by a man attacked in the Dane John Gardens last September
An injury suffered by a man attacked in the Dane John Gardens last September

The chairman of the Friends of Dane John, Yvonne Hill, is appalled the gardens are so badly blighted by crime.

"They are a jewel in the crown for the city and, by day, are absolutely glorious," she said.

"All this seems to be going on late at night and in the early hours when we are asleep, and we have not really heard or seen anything.

"Frankly, I am quite shocked and surprised by these statistics because most of us felt it had been a lot less rowdy, especially when the nightclubs were closed [during lockdown periods].

"But I am well aware that drug use and activity is quite a regular thing, even in the day time.

"If indeed the crime numbers have escalated, the police need to be seen to doing more to intervene and track down the perpetrators. There also needs to be more focus on the time of day or night when these offences are committed.

"We see some police officers around the cafe during the day but rarely late at night, when they would appear to be needed most."

Friends of Dane John chair Yvonne Hill is calling for more to be done to prevent crime in the park
Friends of Dane John chair Yvonne Hill is calling for more to be done to prevent crime in the park

Action needed

Mrs Hill says better CCTV coverage in the park is essential, with the city council currently in the process of securing permission from Historic England to install new cameras.

"We cannot get those extra cameras we have been promised soon enough," she said.

"The lighting is poor, too, and goodness knows what's going on in the gloomier parts of the park.

"We definitely need more preventative work and deterrents, including extra patrols."

The city council insists a lot of work is going on "behind the scenes" to get the extra CCTV cameras installed as soon as possible.

"The funding was secured last year for more cameras in the park, which will have the same enhanced capability to provide images in low-light situations as the existing ones," said spokesman Rob Davies.

"The equipment has been ordered and we are now waiting on an electric supply survey, which is an integral part of the application process to Historic England, from which we need permission to install the cameras due to the park's scheduled ancient monument status.

"A lot of work is taking place behind the scenes so that we can get them in place as soon as possible, but we cannot give an exact timeline for this at the moment.

"Current CCTV in the park is working and footage can be used to help the police investigate reported incidents.

"We still have plans to improve the Dane John lighting as part of a wider package of measures, which includes a new play area and enhanced paths, funded from developer contributions, with more details on that in the coming months.

"We also continue to promote the safer routes initiative, which recommends particular ways to navigate your way around the city."

The Dane John Gardens in Canterbury has been branded a 'no-go zone' at night
The Dane John Gardens in Canterbury has been branded a 'no-go zone' at night

'Victims at the heart of everything we do'

Canterbury's police area commander insists Dane John is patrolled regularly and the park remains a "focus area" for officers.

Chief Inspector Mark Hedges also says the rise in crime is partly due to a change in how it is recorded, and the public having more confidence to report offences.

He points to stricter Home Office rules which state any reported potential crime must now be recorded, even if it is later suspected no offence took place.

"While the increase in crime is slight, with 53 reports in 2021 compared with 41 in 2020 when lockdown restrictions were more stringent, one crime is one too many," he said.

"An increase in crime is not unique to Dane John Gardens. Since 2017 the way crime is recorded has changed and the public has an increased confidence in reporting crime. These factors have resulted in an increase of crime reporting – something that is reflected on a national level.

"It is important that people feel safe, and Dane John Gardens remains a focus area for Kent Police and our partner agencies. We have been working with Canterbury City Council to improve CCTV coverage in the area, which is a direct result of the Safer Streets funding secured in 2021.

"The area is part of our officers’ regular beat and these patrols work closely with the city council and their CCTV operatives who monitor the area 24 hours a day."

Dane John Gardens is said to be a much more welcoming place in the daytime
Dane John Gardens is said to be a much more welcoming place in the daytime

Addressing the fact that the 94 recorded offences resulted in just seven charges, Ch Insp Hedges says a number of factors must be taken into consideration.

"When an offence is reported a charge is just one outcome of many and, just because a person has not been charged, it does not mean the matter has not been investigated to a high standard with an outcome being achieved," he said.

"As a force we always place victims at the heart of everything we do and, from the moment a sexual offence is reported, the victim receives our full support and specialist officers will carry out a thorough investigation.

"We have consulted widely with the public and service providers and this has helped us shape our new ‘Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy’.

"The focus of the strategy centres around holding offenders to account through the criminal justice system and where that is not possible, what alternative measures are available to manage their behaviour, for example the introduction of protective orders.

"As part of this strategy we have introduced a community forum, My Community Voice, to engage with the public, identify their concerns and take action to address them.

"Canterbury is a thriving city with a vibrant night-time economy and a wealth of attractions, and we will continue to work with our partner agencies to address safety concerns so that people can enjoy what is a remarkable place to work, live and visit."

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