Policing the Broads

Thepolice Broads Beat boat, an Orkney Pilot House 20, heading out on the Norfolk Broads patch.

Thepolice Broads Beat boat, an Orkney Pilot House 20, heading out on the Norfolk Broads patch. - Credit: Archant

As the Broads Beat police patrol enters its 20th year, Mark Nicholls reflects on its work.

The Broads Beat has been a familiar presence on Norfolk’s waterways during the past two decades. A team dedicated to helping preserve law and order on the county’s famed waterways and keep crime levels to a minimum, it has been a reassuring sight on the Norfolk Broads.

It is an extensive patch of a network of 125 miles of navigable waterways, including seven rivers, covered by a unit equipped with two vessels – an Orkney Pilot and inflatable Avon Rib – and all the powers their land-based counterparts have at their disposal.

“It is a fantastic job, being out in the fresh air and on the water in all weathers,” says PC Paul Bassham, who has been on the Broads Beat for six years. “But it is a serious policing job as well; we have instances of theft, anti-social behaviour, assaults and other crimes to deal with. However, as much as anything, it is about having a police presence and reassuring people that we are there if needed.”

The Broads Beat was launched by Norfolk Police in 1995, in response to a request from hire firms, boat yards and those who live and work on the Broads who wanted a police presence for their community. The previous service was less formal, using police boats based in Norwich and Great Yarmouth, and there is, in fact, evidence to suggest that as far back as the 1820s police constables were performing regular patrols on the Broads.

But now the unit has designated equipment and personnel and is supported by the Broads community in terms of sponsorship.

Idyllic as the Norfolk Broads are, the figures show that crime is an issue. During this April, for example, there were 29 outboard motors stolen from vessels. Other offences the patrol deals with in the course of the year could include cases of navigational equipment and fishing tackle disappearing, and thankfully rarely stolen boats; fuel thefts; criminal damage and drunken and anti-social behaviour; drugs offences; people falling from boats and sudden deaths.

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Pc Bassham says: “At the end of the day, we are police officers, we are in uniform and we will investigate and make arrests. People do tend to slow down when they see us, though we have been involved in blue light pursuits at times. In addition, if people are not behaving themselves we can also issue fixed penalty tickets of £100, but in a lot of cases it is about us having a presence, giving a bit of advice and warning people that there is a Broads’ etiquette.”

That advisory approach often applies to the all-male and all-female parties – sometimes stag and hen parties – that hire vessels for the weekend, in terms of speeding, noise, drinking, safety and overall good behaviour. “We work closely with the hire firms, and with such parties we have a ‘meet and greet’ approach which gives us an opportunity to talk about safety and behaviour,” he explains.

Broads Beat was, until this year, a seasonal patrol from Easter to October, but for the first time it is now a permanent all-year-round operation, though peak demand on its service remains in the busier summer holiday season. Based at Hoveton Police Station, the unit is overseen by Inspector Theresa Eagleton with Sgt Derek Rutter and PC Ish Najjar, supported by PCSOs Martin Chapman and Phil Berkley and Special Constables Inspector Mike Chamber and Sgt Dean Tyrrell.

Covering the Broads Inland Water network, their area is split into the five districts of north Norfolk, Broadland, Great Yarmouth, Norwich and south Norfolk, though the unit does not cover the coastline. It works closely with the Broads Authority Rangers and liaises with the RNLI, Coastguard, Marine Investigation Agency and other waterway authorities and bodies as well as boat yards, hire companies, pubs and local residents.

“The Broads Beat has been a success,” comments PC Bassham. “It means there is a unit of officers on the Broads which are marine-orientated and speak the marine language, we understand the environment and are a point of contact for all the other agencies.

“It is a big patch in terms of size and we also have to consider there are thousands of hire boats and people visiting from all over the UK and abroad, but hopefully, by showing our presence, we are keeping levels of crime and disorder on the Norfolk Broads under control.”