EXCLUSIVE: More than 1000 reported crimes including child rape and kidnapping in Sheffield parks
More than 1000 reported crimes have been committed in Sheffield's public parks '“ including child rape, kidnapping and drug trafficking - in less than three years, The Star can reveal.
The most common crime to have taken place across more than 90 city parks is assault with more than 400 reported incidents since January 2015.
Graves Park, Hillsborough Park – which will host the main stage at this year's Tramlines Festival, and Firth Park were highlighted as the most crime-hit.
The figures, revealed through a Freedom of Information request to South Yorkshire Police, also show that park crime is on the rise.
It has sparked debate over how safe the city's beautiful public open spaces really are – with some calling for extra security measures to be introduced.
Fran Belbin, who helps to run the award-winning Pitsmoor Adventure Playground, said: "Sheffield parks are a mixture of safe and unsafe - the parks around here in Pitsmoor feel pretty safe during the day but much less so at night.
“Lack of lighting is a key factor in making them feel unsafe. If parks are left open as access routes at night then they really need decent lighting as a minimum.”
Jenni Sayer, aged 30, who with her friend Laura Appleby, aged 32, visited more than 100 parks and green spaces in Sheffield last year to raise money for charity, described some areas as no-go areas at night.
She said: "We have felt safe in 95 per cent of the parks, but there are some in the northern part of the city where we have felt uncomfortable. For example we went to Wincobank Hill Fort and there were youngsters riding around on off-road bikes. Graffiti is also a problem in some areas.
"I wouldn't go through parks at night, better lighting would help."
Jenni added she hopes for "tight security" at Hillsborough Park during the Tramlines Festival.
The figures showed there were 1048 reported crimes in Sheffield's parks between January 2015 and the end of November 2017.
Last year saw the highest numbers with 398 incidents, followed by 2015 with 340 and 2016 with 310.
The most reported crime was assault with 401, followed by stealing - which includes theft, robbery and burglary - with 319, and sex offences with 80 incidents. There was also 14 drug offences recorded.
Graves Park had the highest number of incidents with 53 in three years – the top reported crime being assault with 21 followed by 12 instances of stealing.
Hillsborough was second with 43 crimes reported, including 19 assaults and 18 thefts or robbery. Firth Park was third with 42, which included 19 reported acts of stealing, and 15 assaults.
Despite the increase in crime overall, South Yorkshire Police stressed that incidents have gone down in about half of the parks.
Chief Inspector for Sheffield Stuart Walne put the rise in part down to more people reporting crimes.
He added: "Both Firth Park and Hillsborough Park have seen a reduction in recorded crime.
“Graves Park falls within the Sheffield West Neighbourhood Policing Team that monitors crime trends and data. Where there is an increase, for example last year there was a rise in anti-social behaviour, the team will carry out specific patrols and use social media to raise awareness.”
He added that officers monitor crime trends in parks daily - and when there is a spike patrols are increased.
A spokeswoman for the Friends of Graves Park pointed out that it is the largest park in the city and so you might expect to see proportionately higher figures, but did not want to comment further.
A Sheffield Council spokesman said on average there is only one crime committed per day across all the city's 800 green spaces, which are visited by 40 million people a year.
He added that CCTV and lighting has been installed in problem areas and added: "We are currently investing more money in parks, particularly in areas where there is a need to improve health inequality, to encourage people to become active and enjoy the outdoors.”
A Tramlines Festival spokesman said: “Our site and the periphery has numerous security personnel who are there to ensure crowd safety, we compliment this with a site wide CCTV system and an event control set up with South Yorkshire Police.
“There can never be any guarantee that people will not be be the subject of crime, as your statistics illustrate.
"We advise all our customers to think about their own personal safety as well as look out for others. This includes things likes using public transport to get to the site instead of taking routes that may be unknown to you.
"Making sure that personal items such as your phone and purse are in bags and not easily accessible for pick pockets."
Total number of crimes reported
2015 – 340
2016 – 310
*2017 – 398
Total – 1048.
*Up to November
Top three serious crimes committed
Assault - 401
Stealing (Theft, burglary and robbery) – 319
Sex offences – 80
Top 10 parks with most crimes reported since January 2015
Graves Park – 53
Hillsborough Park – 43
Firth Park – 42
Endcliffe Park – 35
Richmond Park/Richmond Park Entrance – 28
Norfolk Park/Heritage Park – 26
Manor Park area 26
Concord Park – 26
Weston/Western Park – 24
Meersbrook Park – 23