A public meeting regarding Stornoway’s recent increase in anti-social behaviour took place last night (Wednesday May 25th).
The meeting, held in the Fàilte Centre at 7pm, was open to all members of the public and featured speakers from relevant public sector organisations.
Community councillors, the Chief Inspector of the Western Isles police and representatives from local child safeguarding agencies - such as social workers and education officers - met with members of the public in order to discuss the growing concern in the town.
Although the meeting was triggered by incidents involving youths, discussions focussed on anti-social behaviour broadly, with nearly all agency representatives highlighting that the fact that the vast majority of such behaviour is actually committed by adults.
The meeting was hosted by Joanne Muir, chair of Stornoway Community Council, who, prior to proceedings, issued a warning that no individual youths or families were to be named or identified. Speakers from attending organisations each spoke of their role in addressing the issue and the floor was subsequently opened to the public for questions.
The desired outcome of the meeting was to form a partnership from all attending agencies - a co-ordinated approach led by Stornoway Community Council - whilst also addressing the fear and concerns of the attending general public. Many agencies expressed belief that youth anti-social behaviour and child protection are inseparable issues which must be tackled together.
The forum was triggered by a petition started by Louisa Barron-MacDonald on April 12th. Following an incident of harassment and abuse directed towards her own family, the mother of two posted footage online and was subsequently contacted by many with similar experiences. 'After making this incident known publicly we were inundated with people that also shared horrific experiences with this same group, too many to count.' stated Barron-MacDonald.
This response moved her to publish an official petition in order to gain the attention of local authorities. The petition quickly acquired local traction and has since amassed over 1800 signatures - with over 1000 people signing in the first 24 hours. The petition has now been handed over to local authorities, with Barron-MacDonald awaiting a response.
Police Scotland issued a public statement the following day, communicating that they were ‘working with partner agencies to address recent anti-social behaviour in Stornoway.’
Chief inspector of Western Isles police, Alasdair Macleod, attended Wednesday’s public forum. Members of the public expressed concern regarding perceived poor performance of Stornoway police, and issues contacting law enforcement - 101 (non-emergency calls) are diverted through a call-room on the mainland, which often leads to significant delays in response from local officers.
Many others cited fear of further harassment and poor faith in local police as factors in hesitancy to report incidents, to which Chief Inspector Macleod responded ‘I do agree that there are issues with under reporting.’
Colin Gilmour, health improvement manager for NHS Western Isles, spoke of the importance of tackling alcohol and substance abuse in the local area, and Lewis generally.
Donald Macleod, head of education for the local authority, highlighted the role schools play in preventing anti-social behaviour amongst youths; whilst Jack Libby, chief social worker for the local authority, spoke regarding the importance of contextualising such behaviour, and tackling the root causes directly:
‘One episode of anti-social behaviour needs to be responded to for two reasons: for the victims…but also for the other victims - 4/5 young people involved in youth-offending and anti-social behaviour, they’re communicating something to us, that’s what the research tells us - they have adversities in their lives. That communication needs to be responded to.’
‘We have a responsibility towards our children because they are tomorrow's adults.’
Libby also expressed belief that previous incidents have involved a very small minority of local young people, and questioned the lack of concern regarding anti-social behaviour committed by adults offenders: ‘The vast majority of offences that take place in our communities are by adults…adults who should know better.’
Libby continued that the Western Isles Social Work department aims to ‘Direct our resources in such a direction that it makes a lasting impact for these people.’
All organisations, and many members of the public, spoke in defence and praise of Stornoway’s young people. An attending Castle Grounds worker stated that 90% of anti-social behaviour on the grounds - dog fouling, littering, irresponsible cycling etc - is committed by adults.
Further meetings and discussions are due to take place, at which organisers are keen for representation of local young people themselves.