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Church under fire over bench row

PUBLISHED: 08:00 05 December 2008 | UPDATED: 07:49 01 August 2010

A CHURCH council in Halesworth has been branded "unchristian" in its behaviour by one of its neighbours after it refused to move a memorial bench that was attracting anti-social behaviour.

A CHURCH council in Halesworth has been branded “unchristian” in its behaviour by one of its neighbours after it refused to move a memorial bench that was attracting anti-social behaviour.

The bench, which is in the grounds of St Mary's Church but faces a number of residential properties in Steeple End, had become a magnet for abusive youths during the summer months.

A letter sent to St Mary's Church Council in June imploring them to move the bench was signed by 11 residents of Steeple End and the surrounding streets, however it has only been decided this week that the bench will be put into storage until a better setting can be found.

One resident, who lives alone and does not wish to be named, is furious that nothing has been done sooner. “I think it was particularly unchristian of them,” they said. “They showed no interest or concern for their neighbours, all just for a metal bench that doesn't even have a plaque on it. I'm not a religious person but I'm absolutely shocked.”

Steeple End has a history of anti-social behaviour as it is a through route from one of the town's busy pubs, and fast food outlets. However Halesworth Police have confirmed that the problems were exacerbated by the bench because the nature of the problem had changed “from being transient to people actually sitting down and continuing the problem for longer than it needs to be.”

The problems have died down in the colder months, but at the height of the issue they included large groups of youths gathering at the bench, shouting abuse at residents, breaking bottles, knocking on homes in the small hours of the morning and even breaking windows.

“There aren't any seats in the Market Square so they take their takeaways and come to sit here,” the resident explained. “I can't look out because I don't want them to see that a woman lives here. I swear like a sailor myself, but I must say I've never heard it like this before, it's so aggressive.”

Ann Wilkinson, a churchwarden for St Mary's, said that the bench had not been removed sooner because it was a “complex matter and a difficult one to resolve.” She added: “The Church is sad that the bench which was installed in memory of a past resident has caused distress to some of our neighbours.

“The project from inception to completion took two years and the position was chosen to provide a place for elderly people to rest on their way to and from the town.

“It has been well used for the purpose intended, but unfortunately it has also been used late at night by young people whose behaviour disturbs the peace in Steeple End.”

A meeting is to be held on Wednesday January 14 at 7.30pm in the Halesworth Church Hall, which will provide more opportunity to discuss the problem.

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