Meet the People Making London’s Canals Safer

As with any big city, London’s canal areas sometimes see high levels of crime, from boat break ins to cyclists being pushed off the tow path by criminals, forcing them into the water. Fed up with the local police response, a group of volunteers have come together to make a presence on a number of badly hit stretches of canal, to warn off potential thieves and other people who look to cause trouble in the area.

Named ‘Canal Watch’, this group of volunteers armed with nothing more than a torch are working together to have a strong presence on some stretches of the London canal network in order to protect the area from criminals. According to My London News:

“Residents of canal boats are frequently targeted by muggers with knives, cyclists are pushed into canals as a form of gang initiation and women are attacked on the towpath. This is in addition to bikes being regularly stolen and drunks boarding boats in the night to eat a kebab or run across the roofs. To make matters worse, some boaters have stopped reporting crimes to the police because when they have done so in the past, the officers have been unhelpful.”

Canal Watch was initially set up in 2017 but is now growing as crime rates in certain areas grow. Johnny Mitchell a Canal Watch volunteer, has told My London News about he had a number of tools stolen from a friends widebeam boat:

“The back-hatch was open and I thought ‘oh shoot, what’s gone on here? I looked up and saw all his suitcases had been pulled out from the front of the boat and his clothes were scattered around and had been gone through.”

Furthermore Helen Brice, one of the founders of Canal Watch has discussed just why the group was established in the first place:

“We’d try to report crime and sometimes the police would say; ‘well, we can't really do anything because you haven't got a postcode’, which is incorrect. They just weren't informed properly. Other times they would say; ‘just move somewhere else then. I think it's because we're itinerant, they think they'll go away and it won't matter.”

Working as a team, Canal Watch volunteers now regularly patrol the area from Limehouse to Bromley-by-bow, using their presence to protect other canal users from those who wish to cause harm.

Thankfully though, the wider UK canal networks still remain relatively free from crime thanks to their remote locations and friendly, social conscious users. If you’re looking to moor up in a city centre location, be sure to check out reviews of the area to ensure that during your mooring, your boat and your passengers will be safe.

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