CHRISTIAN volunteer Street Pastors are playing a significant role in reducing incidents of crime and anti-social behaviour among North Devon s night-time revellers. As Bideford Street Pastors celebrate their first anniversary, police figures reveal big re

CHRISTIAN volunteer Street Pastors are playing a significant role in reducing incidents of crime and anti-social behaviour among North Devon's night-time revellers.

As Bideford Street Pastors celebrate their first anniversary, police figures reveal big reductions in offences during the times they and North Devon colleagues in Ilfracombe and Barnstaple have been on the streets.

Police statistical research has compared periods before the Pastors started with similar periods since.

Comparing the 10 months up to the end of March with the year before, incidents of anti-social behaviour in Bideford on Saturday nights-Sunday mornings have dropped by 26.8 per cent. Violent crime dropped by 43 per cent, damage by 32.4 per cent and total crime was down 42.6 per cent.

In Ilfracombe, where they started in November, 2008, figures for the 18 months to the end of March showed a drop in anti-social behaviour of 19.7 per cent, violent crime down 27.3 per cent, damage down 51.9 per cent and a total reduction of 28.6 per cent.

Barnstaple's Pastors have been operating since last October. Figures for the five months to the end of March show a drop in anti-social behaviour in the town centre of 28.9 per cent compared with the same period the previous year, although violent crime has remained at the same level and there was an increase in incidents of damage. One suggestion is that this could be due to an increased reporting of incidents.

Bideford Street Pastors celebrated their first year with a supper at Bideford Baptist Church.

It has also been marked with international recognition, area organiser Duncan Withall being shadowed for two days last week by a French reporter and accompanying photographer for an article in the weekend magazine of the French daily newspaper Liberation.

Over the past year the Bideford Pastors have collectively given more than 3,000 hours of voluntary service, given direct practical help to more than 500 people and talked with and given support to more than 2,000 people.

They have calmed aggressive situations, supported vulnerable people, attended anti-social incidents, administered first aid, helped people home, and handed out items such as water, hot drinks and foot-protecting flip-flops.

During this time they have also removed more than 2,000 potential weapons from the streets.

Duncan Withall told the Gazette that 'potential weapons' were anything that could be used to injure someone. Most of these items were discarded bottles and glass that could potentially be used as weapons, as were such items as broken umbrellas and sticks with nails.

But they had not encountered any actual weapons such as knives or guns.

Bideford Police Inspector Shaun Kenneally said: "The Street Pastors have provided a valuable contribution to the late night economy and have certainly helped to reduce crime and the fear of crime in our area.

"Having seen them in action myself, they also have a great rapport with the people who are out enjoying their evening and are well regarded and respected for the work they do. We are very grateful for the support and help that they have provided as it is a very meaningful role.