Published: 12:00, 23 November 2017
The death of Kyle Yule last month has shone a light on crime and anti-social behaviour in Gillingham. In this special investigation reporter Matt Whale spoke to residents, who say they're scared to go out at night, and to police and council chiefs about how they see the issue.
Two shocking incidents less than a mile apart have left residents stunned but not surprised.
The first one involved a 79-year-old grandfather being savagely robbed of cash and his bus pass.
The second – just a day later – saw hordes of youths turning a residential street into a battlefield.
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For some living in Gillingham, violence is becoming an ever-present threat.
Just last month, teenager Kyle Yule died after being stabbed in East Street. This followed another knifing in the same road weeks before when a 17-year-old was seriously hurt.
A special investigation by the Medway Messenger and KMTV investigates residents’ fears of gangs, knives and anti-social behaviour.
Resident Stuart Bailey feels the problem is getting out of hand.
In a letter to the Messenger, he said: “It has become very apparent Gillingham High Street has become a no-go area.
“I live not far from the High Street and have noticed several gangs. When I say gangs, the number has been between 15 to 20 youths hanging around outside Burger King, Nisa, Costa Coffee.”
Stuart cited this as a reason some McDonald’s branches – including Gillingham – have banned under-21s from eating inside as a group after 3pm.
He added: “These gangs are trolling the High Street causing damage and stealing from Nisa and Iceland. They’re intimidating the commuters who walk through the area.
“Gillingham High Street has a gang problem and they are running amok”
“There are a high number of youths hanging around the cheap chicken shops opposite McDonald’s, spitting on the floor, smoking drugs and putting their hands down the front of their trousers.
“The police say there is CCTV on the High Street. However, most of these are pointed in the wrong direction.
“There are hardly any patrols in the evening.
“With stabbings in two roads near to the High Street, there is clearly an issue and a story to tell.
“Gillingham High Street has a gang problem and they are running amok.”
Richii Bunger – also known as B.Richii.B – says he believes there is a growing gang culture in Gillingham.
He has released a music video called Life 4 A Knife in memory of Kyle Yule, who was stabbed to death last month.
The 19-year-old says the violence is due to a territorial battle between youths from the town and Chatham.
“It’s the Chatham lot and Gillingham lot that have beef together. It’s a territorial thing,” he said.
“They feel safer rolling with other people.
“Everyone carries knives – if you run into a group of people down the wrong street and you’re defenceless, you’ll be beaten up.
“Knives give people that feeling of support. People want to protect themselves.
“They carry coshes, baseball bats and planks of wood. It’s all types of weapons.
“A guy I know sells drugs; he got stabbed and robbed not long ago.
“People from London come down here and commit crimes.
“I have to keep myself getting along with everyone because of what I do.
“The Chatham boys do a lot. Drug dealing, collecting owed money.
“People think they’re ringleaders. They carry weapons and encourage others to carry weapons."
He also pointed to the lack of things to do for the town’s youth, pushing them onto the streets.
He said: “When I was younger, I was doing some bad stuff. There was a youth club, but they shut it down.
“When they shut it down, we were all back on the streets.
“We used to love the youth centre at the Sunlight Centre, we’d enjoy ourselves and get tired and hungry and went straight home.
“Now people take things into their own hands – they won’t bother with the police.
“You get 12-year-olds riding around on mountain bikes all the time [causing trouble]. It’s not what you want to see.
“I was doing that at my age but I had places to go, I wasn’t out there terrorising people every night.”
Dave Storey, who is joint-owner of the Britannia Pub in the High Street, says people are too fearful to come into the town centre.
He said: “It affects business in a big way. People are afraid to walk the streets; too frightened to come down the High Street.
“Incidents just happen left, right and centre. Youths often stand outside the pub and won’t move on.
“We hold a karaoke night on a Saturday night, and recently about seven or eight lads, around 15 or 16, came barging into the pub, grabbed the microphone and refused to leave.”
“We’ve watched them flicking cigarette ends at cops" - Dave Storey, pub landlord
Dave worries about the situation because of the lack of fear and respect the youths show, and the possibility they are carrying weapons.
“How do you deal with it? They’ve got no respect for anyone and most of them carry knives.
“We’ve watched them flicking cigarette ends at cops.
“We’ve only been here at the pub around 10 weeks, and we’ve seen incidents with stabbings and it’s getting out of order.”
Like many others, Mr Storey feels if nothing is done, the situation will only get worse.
He added: “The problem is we mollycoddle them and wrap them in cotton wool because they’re youths.
“What will happen is that people will take things into their own hands.
“If nothing gets done, vigilante groups will appear and they’ll batter them.
“I just want it to be safe, and for there to be community spirit in the High Street again.”
Rehman Chishti said: “Is Medway a great safe place to live for all? The answer is yes.
“I’ve lived in Gillingham since I was six. I know all the schools. My family live here. I walk home through Gill late at night.
“London has a problem with people carrying knives, but that is not the case here.
“With our location, we have excellent links to London. We have some of its challenges coming our way.
“I am confident as a person who lives in this town and loves this town that we are a great, safe place to live for all.”
He did acknowledge a culture of youths carrying knives and other weapons.
“The police are addressing individuals who carry knives. It’s mainly young people who carry knives.
“We do need to stop the culture where young people feel the need to carry them.
“That is the problem that is being looked at and dealt with across the country.
“Our problem is no different compared to other places across the country with our demographic.
"We have problems from London overflowing into the area, with young people feeling sucked into carrying knives and gang culture.
“But by having effective engagement with young people, we can address these challenges.
“Some young individuals feel like they need more youth clubs. I’ve not had that representation come through to me.
“If young people want that, I want to sit down and engage with them and get them that.
“Young people wanted a skateboard park, and now it’s there.
“If there are other things that young people want, I want to look at that.”
Mr Chishti also said that some responsibility lies with the parents.
Medway district commander Ch Insp Rob Marsh said: “Gillingham does not have a gang culture and remains a safe place to live, work and visit.
“While it is understandable the public perception of crime may be distorted following a serious incident, I would like to reassure residents we are proactively targeting those responsible for committing violent offences including those involving knives and other weapons.
“Most recently this has been achieved as part of Operation Raptor, which is designed to identify and relentlessly pursue criminals who commit robberies, serious assaults and other major offences.
“As part of this initiative we have also been working with partner agencies to help steer young people away from crime by focusing on education and training.
“With regards to knife crime in particular, we participate in an annual campaign that aims to raise awareness of the dangers of carrying knives while also identifying and arresting those who do.
“I would encourage residents to report all incidents to us by calling 101 or 999 in an emergency.
“This will enable us to gain a clearer picture of the areas most affected by anti-social behaviour and other incidents, and to deploy our resources accordingly.”
In Medway, only the ward of Medway River sees more violent crime and anti-social behaviour than Gillingham North and Gillingham South.
Even taking into account its higher population level, Gillingham has a disproportionate amount of violent crime, according to the website UK Crime Stats.
VIDEO: Residents have had enough
According to the police’s website, more than 30% of crime in Gillingham’s two wards is classed as ‘violent crime and sexual offences’, with anti-social behaviour making up more than 20% more.
An anonymous letter to the Medway Messenger also suggested the problem is not confined to the High Street.
The writer said: “For months now, residents have spoken to see if we could do anything about the rising unsocial behaviour that occurs in the Balmoral Gardens nearly every night.
“With personal experience and speaking to other neighbours we have nearly all suffered for simply going about our business and walking through the gardens.
“We have learned of how residents will no longer allow their children to play in the gardens, how women are verbally assaulted, often drugs are openly smoked in public and children are often subjected to youths swearing, fighting and/or causing vandalism.
“A child in the area on their way to school even mentioned they are smoking the ‘funny stuff’.
“Residents will no longer allow their children to play in the gardens and how women are verbally assaulted"
“We have written to police and councillors asking them to make the area safer.
“We have contacted the council and councillors asking them to at least make the garden walkway lights work as gangs of youths congregate there every night making it menacing for people to walk there.
“Despite assurances they have not been repaired. We have asked why with all the CCTV cameras in the area can they not see these groups of youths causing unsocial behaviour, we have not had a reply and still it goes on.”
For more news, views and opinion on crime in Gillingham, pick up a copy of the Medway Messenger today.