‘Free rein for crooks’ - Preston’s CCTV cuts spark concerns

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Criminals are enjoying “free rein” in Preston city centre since CCTV stopped being monitored, security workers have claimed.

Although 25 cameras across the main shopping area still are linked to a police control room, trained civilian operators who used to monitor screens and direct resources are no longer there. Instead it is now left to police controllers to keep an eye on the screens, in addition to their already heavy workload.

The change comes after Preston City Council, faced with making cuts of £50,000 a year on the surveillance system budget, failed to agree a new contract with the company which provides the staff to operate it.

Although Preston Council insists the system is “fully operational”, security guards claim since the change came into effect on April 1, their jobs have become dramatically busier.

One has even bought a body camera to wear on shifts as extra protection in case he is involved in any incidents.

Steven Fludder, 33, said: “I’ve been attacked a few times in town recently.

CCTV installed near the Guildhall

CCTV installed near the Guildhall

“We used to radio the police but can’t get hold of them any more. You have to fend for yourself so I’ve spent £100 on a bodycam so it’s not just my word against theirs.

“People know there’s no CCTV being monitored, so it’s a free rein now for thieves.

“I don’t think people realise how much trouble this (the CCTV change) is causing for doormen.

“They used to track all the people we had concerns about – drug users, people who had been thrown out of pubs – on CCTV so we’d know their whereabouts and radio through to premises advising not to let them in.

�100,000 is being invested into CCTV in the centre of Preston.'Pictured is the CCTV on the corner of Lancaster Road and Church Street.'28th July 2015

�100,000 is being invested into CCTV in the centre of Preston.'Pictured is the CCTV on the corner of Lancaster Road and Church Street.'28th July 2015

“But not any more, now it’s every man for himself. A security guard’s job has become so much busier.”

Lancashire Police insist that if any door staff need assistance, they can contact the police “through the usual channels” and they will respond.

Stephen Woodward, who works on the doors at the Stanley Arms in Lancaster Road, said: “It used to work like clockwork. If we had a problem, then we’d press a clicker on our jacket and it would go straight through to the people monitoring the CCTV. They’d be able to zoom in on us and capture what’s going on.

“But we can’t do that now. Instead we’ve had a letter from Lancashire Police telling us that if we need assistance, we have to ring 999. But if we’ve got someone detained on the floor, it’s not easy for us to start getting our mobiles out and ring.”

He added: “We pay a monthly subscription to Apex for the radios, and they do a superb job, but there’s no-one on the other end picking it up.

“Apex say that they’ve given 10 radios to police in the city centre, so if that’s the case, why aren’t they getting back to us?”

Lancashire Constabulary has not responded to enquiries over this comment.

Jim Curry, managing director of Apex Security Systems, said: “We supply and support 250-plus schemes across the country and Preston is one of them.

“I think there’s a general trend because of financial cutbacks from agencies outside of Apex’s control that in various areas, support is being reduced.

“It’s sad, because support is quite important.”

He said that the company provides radios nationally to forces that request them, but could not divulge if or how many had been supplied to police in Preston.

Preston city centre councillor Drew Gale said: “It’s not ideal, but I’m lead to believe it’s only a short-term situation.”

Lorraine Norris, chief executive of Preston Council, said: “The CCTV system in Preston continues to be fully operational within the police control room, continually recording with full police access to both live and recorded footage. It is our intention to enhance the current city centre CCTV system in the future to embrace new technologies effectively.”