A ‘typical’ Saturday night on the beat in Limavady

The scene in Limavady town centre early Sunday morning. 1801SJ1-police
The scene in Limavady town centre early Sunday morning. 1801SJ1-police

Police in Limavady, alongside their counterparts in Derry and Strabane, have deployed body cameras as another tool to prevent crime in the busy town centre at the weekends. Police say Limavady is no different to any other town in the North and what happens in the Roe Valley town at weekends is typical of what happens in towns all across the North. County reporter Sheena Jackson joined officers on the beat on Saturday night to see how police deal with the hundreds of revellers spilling onto the streets.

It’s just after midnight in Limavady police station and officers are briefed on the situation in the town centre.

Despite the lashing rain and wind, the crowds are out tonight with several hundred revellers filling the bars.

The officers prepare for the night ahead, suiting up in their high visibility jackets, hence the name “the yellow coats”. There are 12 officers involved in what police call the night-time economy tonight plus, at least, another half dozen officers dealing with normal response calls.

Walking towards the town centre, things are relatively quiet with just a few people on the streets. They appear drunk - shouting or singing to themselves - staggering. When they see the officers they are fairly jovial.

“What about you policeman?” or “You’re a sound boy, sir!” are just some of the initial comments shouted their way.

The officers position themselves outside the bars, but not immediately so. To begin with they stand across the street taking in a full view of the scene.

Meanwhile, drivers of up to a dozen cars have parked along the street, apparently to “rubberneck” at what happens when the bars close for, what I’m told, a night’s entertainment.

It’s not long before the first fracas occurs. Out of nowhere and within seconds there is a fight. Fists are flying and a doorman has lost his tie. The officers quickly intervene. Calmly they speak to those involved, isolating the drunken patron at the centre of it. In a slurred voice, he claims his brother threw him out of the pub. He can’t give his proper name and makes little sense. The officers are unbelievably patient warning the man to head home. Reluctantly he makes his way down the street like a pinball in a machine only to return to the officers a few minutes later with a bag of chips. He tries to engage, quite aggressively at times, in conversation with one officer but he is warned again to go home. Eventually he leaves.

At this stage, the crowds are thick on the street, some staggering onto the road in the path of drivers. Two young males are wrestling on a nearby car bonnet while a scantily clad girl in ridiculously high heels trips and hits the pavement. Another girl is involved in an argument with a male while another, perched on a windowsill, is sobbing. A lot of the females out this night are without coats and, tugging at their short skirts and dresses, complain of the bitter cold. I’m told in some cases they are unwilling to pay for their coats to be stored in a cloakroom. They appear very drunk and are swearing loudly. Some are even barefoot. There seems to be so few people sober.

Some of the officers are approached by young women fielding a variety of requests. Some ask for a lift home, can they try on their hats or, can they arrest their boyfriend because he is “a f***ing psychopath”.

Across the street and another fight has erupted. A man, aged roughly in his twenties, is bare-chested and surrounded by a bunch of burly men. As soon as the police appear the fight breaks up. No one will say what happened.

Within minutes the officers rush to another incident across the street. A young lad, who appears to be very drunk, is in the thick of it. The officers manage to get him away from the scene but he gets right in their face, waving his arms about wildly, yelling his version of events. It takes a good 10 to 15 minutes before the man moves away, albeit still shouting.

As the crowd starts to thin, with people getting taxis, officers are called to an incident further up the street. A man is sitting on a bench with his head in his hands. There is a lump the size of a golf ball on the side of his head. One officer has been told he was punched and kicked twice to the head. The man says he fell. The police tell the man he needs medical attention, that he needs to go to hospital but he doesn’t want to. A few minutes later an ambulance arrives and reluctantly the man gets inside.

It’s 3am and just a few souls remain on the streets. A girl in a tight and skimpy jersey dress makes her way to the side of a public building to vomit. Minutes later she re-emerges only to tuck into a pizza.

As a few cars do a circuit of the town, officers head back to the station after what they say was a “typical” Saturday night in Limavady.

What is shocking is just how fast incidents on the streets of Limavady can flare up. Most people are simply out for a night’s fun and go home without getting in trouble, but sadly, there are those who end up drunk, lose control and facing a court date.

A former District Judge in Limavady, Eamonn King, said during his almost four years in the town’s Magistrate’s Court roughly 80 per cent of cases before him stemmed from the misuse of alcohol.

Police on duty in the town centre at weekends have to pre-empt situations and step in fast to stop incidents starting. They have so much to look out for, including the safety of revellers who, oblivious to the dangers, stagger onto the road and into the path of drivers.

What is also shocking is the high degree of foul language used by some revellers, but what impressed me the most about the officers was their patience and professionalism and just how much they tolerate from people who are drunk, think they are funny and always right.