Martin Richardson, the man behind the Happidrome amusements centre in Southend, has been busy fighting to keep the town’s prized seafront safe. For him, the Marine Parade is a jewel in Southend’s community. So when anti- social behaviour occurs, he puts his 60 CCTV cameras to work to help the police do their job and make the seafront a place where everyone wants to visit. But sometimes, that relationship doesn’t always end up the way you want. In a two part series of interviews, Richardson talks to Coinslot about social responsibility and the need for consistent, effective action.
Martin Richardson is not a man who surprises often. The Happidrome operator has seen plenty during his days on Southend’s glorious seafront; the man rarely flinches now. But last week, there was a moment, just a tiny one, where the Richardson eyebrow flickered. The background is well documented – two young men broke into the yard behind his arcade late one night hoping for some rich pickings to steal and sell. Audacious or dumb, it’s difficult to say – 60 CCTV cameras operating around the arcade might suggest the latter. Anyhow, they were caught on camera, the police weren’t interested and an infuriated Richard- son decided to post the footage on his Facebook page, more as a warning to his fellow operators that these lads may be on the prowl.
The social media response was unexpected to say the least. 27,000 shared, 4,500 comments – not many warm and fuzzy about the two lads – and an uplifting twist in events.
Monday morning last week, Richardson arrived at work to be advised that there were two men waiting for him in his office. “You know what, I thought it was the police again. I’ve reported a couple of instances of petty crime on the parade, offered them the footage but they’d just ignored it. I was ready for a bit of an argument – their policy of ‘filtering out’ has really caused all of us problems, and we need proper policing,” he explained.
It wasn’t exactly as he expected. He walked into his office all pumped up for an argument to see two faces turn around – one instantly recognisable. “I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or not.”
The older man stood up and introduced himself and his son – who turned out to be the star character in Richardson’s CCTV break-in footage which he’d posted some weeks earlier.
“The father said that he’d been so embarrassed by the video and his son’s actions and what people were saying about the family, that he had to come and apologise in person. He’d actually marched his son down to our arcade like a naughty schoolkid to say sorry.”
The two said they owed Richardson an apology and the boy would pay for the damage caused in the attempted break-in.
“All credit to both of them,” Richardson says, but he still feels the story should have aken a different turn. “It takes a lot for a father and son to do what they did. But, we were lucky, not everyone would do that. This should have been dealt with by the police – we invest over £100,000 every year in our CCTV cameras to protect our customers and people on the seafront. They make people feel safe, but when something goes wrong, when there’s a crime, and we have the evidence and even the names of the people, the police don’t seem to want to do anything about it.”
This is a tale of two incidents. The good, fairly happy ending concerning the break-in at Happidrome. The second, despairingly unsatisfactory.
Richardson takes up the more recent story. “There was another incident on the front, nothing to do with us but we were close by and we went out to console the people. It was a disabled lad with his mum who’d come down to Southend for a day trip. It was obviously a special day for them, they’d come from miles away, in Hertford- shire, north of London. The kid was sitting on a bench eating an ice- cream, and put his wallet on the table. And then out of the blue, this one big bloke came along and snatched his wallet and ran off. The kid and his mother were distraught.”
The team at Happidrome had to help somehow. They went through their own CCTV footage to see if there was anything they could see. “We found them. The thief had run into a sidestreet where we had cameras and met up with his partner. We then traced back the theft and saw that they’d clearly identified the young boy as a a target and planned it. One caused a distraction, the other snatched the wallet. It was horrible – this is just so bad for Southend,” he told Coinslot.
Richardson rang up the police, rang up the council – all to no avail. There was no meaningful response; not even with CCTV evidence.
So, Richardson went back to social media, his new-found tool for supporting the justice system. He posted the footage, 35,000 shares and nine hours later he received private messages from the families and even a homeless centre where the two frequent advising Richardson of key information.
He presented the names to the police. immediately.
Some seven weeks later, the police spoke to Richardson. It wasn’t going to end well.
“The two blokes were both on the police database, but they were not able to prosecute a victimless crime,” he explained. “I couldn’t work it out; we had the videos, the names, the theft. We had everything. Except the family. I think they’d been scared off – they were distraught when it happened, after the police explained the legal stuff, they were probably too frightened to go through it all again.”
It’s this second tale that angers Richardson most. “We have the cameras for our customers. It really works. We have large video screens in the arcade showing them what’s going on and they really respond well to it. But the CCTV also supports the local community – obviously given what’s happened recently. But we have a police policy and a local authority that are not fulfilling their responsibilities,” he pushed forward with some force.
So, what of his relationship with the police? “I’m really dis- gruntled with their performance. We’ve got to a stage where you have to ask the question, can you mend broken bridges? There are too many excuses. We’ve got to change the relationship with the police. We have to work together better; we have to get rid of that filtering out policy – it’s destroying our town. They’re turning away from justice, not record- ing crimes – and it’s happening right under their noses. I’ve been a victim once and then watched a whole crime unfold on our cameras. Both incidents have been filtered out by the police.”
Richardson does not mince his words. Those that know him recognise this at an instant. But the system ignores him at its peril. When it comes to social responsibility, Happidrome is the ultimate bastion of the concept.
Anyone who questions the industry’s commitment to SR need only look at Richardson’s actions and social media campaigns to protect his local community. When you put them alongside the institutions charged with the authority to actually protect the community, it opens the embarrassing question: just who’s pushing the boundaries of social responsibility?