Update with full story: Great Yarmouth was the birthplace of …
Picture: James Bass
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Thirty years after Crimestoppers started in east Norfolk, the men who brought the crime-fighting scheme to Britain have been honoured.
The blue plaque to mark the 30th anniversary of Crimestoppers. Picture: James Bass
Every seven days someone is charged with murder because of information passed anonymously to Crimestoppers.
The well-known scheme, which encourages people to pass information to police without fear of reprisal, is as familiar as 999 or Neighbourhood Watch, but what is far less known is how it all started in Great Yarmouth 30 years ago.
Yesterday, the men who helped bring Crimestoppers to Britain were reunited outside the former office of the EDP sister paper, the Great Yarmouth Mercury, where a commemorative blue plaque was unveiled.
The plaque in Regent Street is a permanent record of how Crimestoppers was launched in Yarmouth in 1983 by Mike Cole, then detective inspector with Norfolk Constabulary, Jim Carter, manager of the town s Woolworth store, and the late Peter Ware, then editor of the Yarmouth Mercury.
Five years after it started in the seaside town with informants calling a dedicated number at Yarmouth police station and Mr Carter meeting anonymous callers to hand over cash payments Crimestoppers proved such a success it was rolled out nationally.
Today, Crimestoppers is an independent charity but its Yarmouth roots are overlooked or altogether omitted.
The national website says it was established by Lord Ashcroft in January 1988 and renamed Crimestoppers in 1995.
It is hoped the blue plaque will redress the balance and remind people of the important role Yarmouth played in the early days.
Unveiling the plaque featuring his father s name, Peter Ware s son Matthew said: He would be extremely proud, not in an egotistical way, but that he has left a legacy in a place where he really enjoyed working.
Mr Ware, who worked at the Regent Street office when he was a chief reporter for the Mercury in the 1990s, added it would also be an important connection for three of his four grandchildren who never got to meet their grandfather, who died in 1994.
The first Crimestoppers scheme was created by policemen in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Mr Cole was visiting the town of Peoria in Illinois on a police exchange a few years later when he witnessed a similar scheme.
On his return to Yarmouth, he sought permission from his police chiefs to trial it in Norfolk.
It was an instant success; businesses from Yarmouth s Chamber of Commerce signed up and agreed to anonymously pay money into a Crimestoppers account.
Every Friday, the Mercury published an appeal for information in return for a cash reward: 100 reward offered after burglaries , Man sought after stabbing girl .
And each week, informants called a dedicated number at the police station with tip-offs.
Often, 75% of the calls were rubbish, said Mr Cole.
But it worked straight away.
The community of Great Yarmouth immediately accepted the idea and arrests and recovery of stolen property began to emerge, to say nothing of the valuable intelligence gathered with regard to the activity and movement of local criminals.
It reversed the fear of crime; it was the criminal who had to consider the loyalty of those he ran with or, indeed, his nearest and dearest should he incur their displeasure.
It was not without its teething problems after a visit from Her Majesty s Inspector of Constabulary, opponents deemed it wide open to corruption and advised it to be dropped.
But the advice was not mandatory and Yarmouth s Crimestoppers continued, in Mr Cole s words with never a taint of misuse .
Crimestoppers is no longer reliant on cloak and dagger payments, but the benefits are abundant and passing of anonymous information has become a vital crime-fighting tool.
Latest figures from the national office reveal that more 95,000 pieces of information were received by Crimestoppers in 2012; 22 people are arrested and charged every day because of that information; 229m-worth of drugs have been seized from the streets in the past 15 years through Crimestoppers tip-offs; and during the summer riots of 2011, the amount of information sent to the Crimestoppers website increased by 300%.
A far cry from its Yarmouth start when a single police office manned one phone, but no less important.
Information can be reported anonymously to Crimestoppers 24 hours a day on 0800 555111 or online at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.
See this Friday s Great Yarmouth Mercury for an eight-page supplement on the early days of Crimestoppers.
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