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Fence surrounding the campsite
Thieves in the night
By Richard Haugh
The 2007 Latitude Festival was a generally peaceful affair, with just two arrests being made. But a wave of thefts from tents left a sour taste in the mouths of the 30-40 victims, me included.
Ah, waking up on Friday morning after a good night's sleep - looking forward to the first full day's entertainment. My new ear plugs seemed to have done the trick, blocking out the young guys playing guitar until 3am in the next tent.
There's a nice breeze coming from the opened front door of my tent too. Hang on, that wasn't open when I went to sleep.
I do a quick spot check of the site: camera for work (hidden), check; mobile phone (under my pillow), check; wallet (hidden), check; backpack with iPod, chequebook (I'm not sure why I had that at the festival either) and a few pieces of clothing....nowhere to be seen.
It's obvious someone has been in my tent during the night and my fears are all but confirmed when I search the ground outside. On the floor is a receipt from my pre-festival shopping trip and a £5 note.
I guess the thief rummaged through my bag and the receipt fell on the floor, but I'm not sure what the fiver was - a tip perhaps?!
Sharing stories of the night before
Speaking to my neighbours over breakfast I discover that five other nearby tents were broken into (three on Friday morning, two the night after). The most desirable item, it seems, was cash - with trousers or shorts worn the night before being what the thief looked for first.
Candlelight dinner, camping style
One neighbour woke to find somebody in his tent in the early hours of Friday morning, but the excuse of 'sorry mate, wrong tent' from the probable thief and the half conscious state of the camper meant a quick getaway was achieved.
I almost admire the audacity and skill required to tip toe into a tent whilst people are sleeping, rummage through their belongings and take the most valuable thing in sight.
That's if I didn't think they were low life scumbags.
Anyway, what gives them the right to dance around the tents like Wee Willie Winkie, and how come security allows them to get away with it?
Mean Fiddler's response
I spoke to the police after the festival and they confirmed that organisers Mean Fiddler were in charge of onsite security and that no officers were patrolling Henham Park over the weekend.
So I asked Mean Fiddler's chief executive, Melvin Benn, how the security was managed: "It was managed very well actually. Crime at the festival was down on last year.
"We had CCTV cameras, we had security patrolling, we caught people who were trying to steal etc. Quite frankly, in my view, the security was terrific.
Tents close to the campsite border
"There's always liaison with the police. But if you go out into Ipswich high street people steal from you. No matter where you live people steal from you. The police and nobody else succeeds in eradicating that."
The police confirmed that two arrests were made over the weekend - one for sexual assault and one for theft of a tabard (clothing). Both resulted in cautions.
As of the Wednesday after the festival they'd received 30 reports of thefts, with over 20 of these from tents.
I asked Melvin Benn how many instances he was aware of: "About 20. It was mainly tent thefts on the Thursday evening.
"It was presumed that it was people that specifically targeted the event that came down, whether they were local or not, with one specific intention.
"We worked really hard on the security issues and despite there was probably four or five times more people there in terms of the campsite - last year I had less than 4000 people camping, this year I had almost 20,000 people camping in the campsite.
"So despite that considerable increase in people camping there was actually less crime."
I was grateful that my bag was handed in to lost and found on Friday, minus the iPod, but obviously people who had cash stolen weren't so lucky.
I got to repay the favour when I discovered a digital camera and a tin of cigarettes beneath my tent when packing it away.
The incident won't put me off attending next year's festival but I do believe extra measures can be taken to improve security.
I arrived on site Thursday afternoon to take photos of the stages and main arena for this website before the entertainment got underway.
Unless you've come to rob us
I was able to enter the main festival site and get backstage without showing a single piece of identification. I did pick up my wristband soon after.
The fences around the perimeter of the site were too easy to climb over or squeeze under, and much of this fencing was out of sight of the manned check points.
Hopefully Melvin Benn will bear this in mind when planning next year's festival, which will welcome even more people than the 2007 event.
"One can always improve and I intend to improve. But one can never eradicate theft, from any aspect of life. In all walks of ordinary life, not festival life, you can talk to people and they'll all tell you they've had various things stolen from them at various times.
"But I do intend to improve it with better CCTV coverage for instance. But overall I have to say my feeling is we got it right.
"We're definitely intending to return next year. Maybe making it a little bit bigger but nowhere near the increase that I had this year.
"Next year I'll go to a maximum of 25,000."
You can listen to the full interview with Melvin Benn using the link on the right >>
last updated: 24/07/07
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Is Melvin Benn right? Did they get security right at this year's Latitude Festival?