The anti-social act of walking

SIR - I am writing to express my irritation at being stopped in the woodland adjacent to the dell by Windmill Lane, Hitchin on Sunday, January 6 on the grounds of being suspected of anti-social behaviour. While walking in the woodland - owned by North H

SIR - I am writing to express my irritation at being stopped in the woodland adjacent to the dell by Windmill Lane, Hitchin on Sunday, January 6 on the grounds of being suspected of 'anti-social' behaviour.

While walking in the woodland - owned by North Herts District Council (NHDC), and public not private land - I was approached and stopped by two men, one a plain clothes police officer, and the other an NHDC employee. When I asked the reason for being stopped, I was told that it was because of the recent high level of anti-social behaviour taking place on and around the site. What the anti-social behaviour consisted of, I wasn't told.

I was then asked where I had come from, my purpose for walking in the woods and where I was going, following which I had to give my details for the purpose of a form (of which I was given a copy). My description was noted and recorded as well following which I had to sign an affadavit saying I had been well treated, and was allowed to go.

I am concerned for several reasons following this incident. I often walk in the woods and now wonder whether this means I will be stopped again. If I am stopped again in the same place, will this be taken as proof of guilt, despite the fact that I am merely walking and not committing, or planning to commit, any kind of crime. Why was I stopped in the first place? A case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time? My definition of anti-social behaviour would be either drinking, vandalism, drug abuse or sexual activity in a public place. I was obviously doing none of these.

I also resent the fact that I was stopped on a quiet Sunday afternoon, yet youths are often visible either on the benches at the top of the dell or in the woods themselves on a regular basis and appear to be unchallenged by any kind of authority. Vandalism is rife in the area but seems to continue unchecked. I fully expect the NHDC and police response to be to close the woods to public access, but this would be a rash solution - with proper policing that utilises and doesn't isolate the community, the problem could be sorted, or at least tackled efficiently. Stopping me or other local citizens who are merely enjoying a walk on public ground is both a waste of police time and mine.

Chris Gilson

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