Our beloved town centre has gone to the dogs… we fear 'no-go zones' where junkies live in bushes & have sex in graveyard | The Sun

IT was just 14 years ago that the bells of St Lawrence church – the oldest circle of five in the world – rang out in triumph following a £1.2million renovation funded by taxpayers.

But today Ipswich town centre is reverberating to a different sound – as drunks and drug addicts use Class As, sleep in the bushes and even have sex on the raised tombstones on the street outside.

Suffolk police are now calling for the ancient graves surrounding two churches in the Arras Square area to be fenced off as they battle to stop the lewd behaviour.

But locals complain that gangs operate with impunity and that parts of the historic centre have become no-go-zones at certain times of the day.  

Justine Allen, 58, is a supervisor at the St Lawrence community cafe that opened inside the disused church after it was refurbished in 2008.

She said: “I don’t agree with fencing off the tombstones as they’ve already taken away most of our benches to deal with the same issue – but the problem didn’t go away.


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“We still have gangs drinking and taking drugs and dealing here all the time.

“We’ve had knives being used outside of the restaurant and people living in the foliage that used to line the walls until they cut it all away. I feel that the council has lost the town.

“Just the other day, I walked outside the door here and saw a man having a wee. I told him off and he told me to shut up.

“You see human excrement on the pavement and I have witnessed people defecating in the street. It’s disgusting.

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“There is drug paraphernalia all over the square including needles. I found a full box of diazepam (Valium) on the wall here the other day. I picked it up and put it straight in the bin.

“I’ve heard about people having sex on the tombstones. I haven’t seen it with my own eyes, but you do see some weird things.

“It’s a real shame because Ipswich is a beautiful and historic town and it used to be full of life. I used to come here to do my shopping, but I don’t bother anymore.

“So many shops have closed down and the bars and clubs that used to bring people in from all over the county on weekends lost their licenses.

“I’ve lived and worked here for 30-odd years and I’ve done security in nightclubs where I’ve seen all sorts of things.

“But I’ve never seen anything like this. I know people that won’t come here anymore and certainly not at night.

“The police are never here. If you call them, they say, ‘We’ll be there in a minute, we are busy.’

“I’m sad to say it because I love the place, but Ipswich is going to the dogs.”

Criminal activity

Police laid out their proposals to stop the antisocial behaviour in a letter that was published on Ipswich Borough Council’s planning portal this week.

Suffolk Police suggested it might be necessary to "design out crime" by removing even more benches and erecting fences around the tombstones.

They put forward the proposals in response to the council's ‘Turning our Town Around’ project to revitalise the area.

Police say the fences need to be erected around tombstones outside St Lawrence church on Dial Street and the ones outside St Stephen’s church just down the road, which is now a music venue.

The letter stated: “In publicly accessible but secluded locations such as this, it is sadly common to find raised tombstones being used as tables to consume alcohol and drugs. They are also sometimes the site of sexual activity.

"In a religious setting, this anti-social behaviour is particularly disrespectful. It is more likely that this will occur in the area at the back of the church when the protective railings are removed.”

Carpet of drugs

When the Sun visited this week, a carpet of drug paraphernalia and cigarette ends covered the quaint courtyard next to St Lawrence despite a council clean-up that morning.

The refuse included a number of tiny transparent bags used for storing Class A drugs.

When we arrived, people were already resting on the tombstones outside both churches as they ate their lunch in the midday sun.

The names of the deceased etched on the side of the stone caskets were impossible to decipher as they had been worn down to a blur by wind and rain.

But the dead entombed inside – who could have lain there since the 1400s when the bells of St Lawrence were first cast – would no doubt be appalled by modern-day Ipswich.

Retired property manager Peter Shelcot, 69, now discourages his wife from shopping in the town centre alone as he doesn’t believe it is safe.

Ipswich Town FC fan Peter said: “It’s mainly low-level crime and because I’m not completely naïve I know where to go and where not to go.

“When my wife wants to come out, I will say, ‘I’m escorting you.’ The town can be dangerous in places, unfortunately.

“Ipswich is becoming a dumping ground for people with serious issues and I think that’s why we’re seeing so much disorder. It’s being caused by people that are new to the area, people that have no respect for our tombstones and our culture.”

Rodney Bates is part owner of Global Fruits grocers in the centre and believes the anti-social behaviour has been sparked by the pandemic.

Rodney, 51, said: “It started four or five years ago when Covid-19 hit and we went into lockdown with everything shut. After the shops reopened, people were working from home so didn’t have as much need to come into the centre.

“With less footfall, a number of shops were forced to close down and that created a vacuum that allowed the rough sleepers and beggars to move in.

“There are less people around so it’s easier for them to operate. We have town rangers that are supposed to tackle this issue, but I don’t think we have enough of them.

“The problems seem to be getting worse. In the past few weeks, a number of stores around here have been broken into – one was burgled at 4am.”

Bridget Jackaman, 57, is an assistant at the Craftability store, where they sell everything from candle-making kits to stamps.

She said: “I’ve been here about 12 years and there’s always been a drug issue around St Lawrence.  We are slightly removed from it, but you do occasionally get the waft of cannabis smoke drifting into the store.

“Drunk people will wander down the alleyway that leads to the store to relieve themselves. I know that some of our customers don’t like coming into town anymore, which is a shame.

“They are intimidated by the large groups of youths, which can be a bit scary.  

“But I thought it was a shame they removed the benches as they were often used by old people and families that wanted to rest.

“I love Ipswich and I will continue to shop here and support the town as there are still a lot of good retailers here.

“It’s sad people focus on the ones we’ve lost but the truth is the town has gone into decline.”

When contacted by The Sun, an Ipswich Borough Council spokesperson said: “Like many other towns and cities, Ipswich has its challenges in this economic climate.

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"Projects such as the proposed improvements to the public realm at Arras Square are designed to improve the town and reduce anti-social behaviour. The Council and its partners are working hard to ensure that the town is revitalised and thrives.  

We want to make Ipswich Town Centre the thriving heart of our community. A place where everyone feels safe and welcome and where people can shop, socialise, experience brilliant culture and access the services they need.”

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