Residents fear a money-saving plan which plunged Sherborne’s streets into darkness last week may have caused a spree of “senseless” criminal damage.
Dorset County Council organised the mass street light switch-off in a bid to reduce electricity bills as part of plans to save £57 million over three years.
The switch-off, from midnight until 5.30am every night, began in Sherborne last Monday.
Areas affected include Ridgeway, Noake Road and Newland. The lights will only switch back on again in the morning if it is still dark.
Three nights later, on Thursday, a spate of more than 17 incidents took place, sparking fears the two were linked.
Andy Male, 51, lives in a road off the Ridgeway, part of the switch-off area. He leaves his house at around 3.30am each day to work at the Royal Mail delivery office in Cheap Street.
He said: “It’s like walking out into a pitch black hole. I need a torch to just get to my car and I can’t see in front of me. It’s going to get worse as we move into winter.”
Around 3,600 lights in Sherborne, Shaftesbury, Gillingham and Blandford have been switched off with 1,300 countywide remaining lit all night in some areas. These include A, B and town centre roads, those with traffic calming such as speed humps, and places of significant crime and safety risk.
But Mr Male said he worries about security on his street.
He said: “I’m scared to leave my wife and daughter at home when I leave for work and I worry about the elderly people in the area. This leaves the area open wide to crime. There is no doubt about it.”
Mr Male contacted town councillor and taxi driver Jon Andrews about the problem.
Mr Andrews said a number of residents shared his concerns. He said: “I’m going to be touring the streets at night to make sure the lights are on when the county council say they are meant to be.”
Town councillor Matt Hall said he had also received complaints.
He said: “For those who are willing to commit crime they must see the darkness as an ally. I understand the county council needs to save money but I urge them to look at this again.”
Offenders broke house and shop windows between midnight and 3am on Thursday.
Police said they also severely damaged cars, garden walls, fences and plant pots at various locations including Ridgeway, Springfield Crescent, Newland, Acreman Street, Horsecastles Lane, Greenhill, South Avenue, Lenthay Road, and South Court.
Police said witnesses to the incidents reported being woken by the sounds of banging and men shouting. Two men were seen, one on a BMX bicycle.
PC Dermot Shanahan, of Sherborne Police, said: “The extent of these crimes is very concerning, it seems at least two men have passed through the town leaving a senseless trail of damage in their wake.
“The offenders have caused an enormous amount of distress and expense to the victims. I am very keen to speak to anyone who may have witnessed anything suspicious as soon as possible.
“I would like to reassure residents of Sherborne that this is an extremely unusual occurrence for this area.”
A spokesman for Dorset County Council said: “A link between that and part-night street lighting hasn’t been proven.
“The conversion only started last Monday. By Thursday only around 100 lights across the whole of Sherborne would have gone off. Springfield Crescent, South Avenue and South Court will be turned off but we cannot confirm whether they would have been switched off last Thursday.
“Greenhill, Acreman Street and Horsecastles Lane will stay on while Ridgeway, Newlands and Lenthay Road will be partly turned off and partly left on.”
When the plans were discussed earlier this year, Sgt Ged Want said it was hard to tell if unlit areas would present a safety concern.
He said: “I would expect that if certain types of crime did increase due to the lack of lighting that it would be a very small increase.
“However people like to feel safe in their communities, and I would like to think that the police and the public will be consulted by the county council if we see any real issues.”
On Tuesday PCSO Jon Radford said he did not believe the incidents were related in any way to the street light switch off.
Anyone with information on the incidents should call Dorset Police on 101 quoting incident number 20:27, or by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
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