Police presence 'might have stopped' death in street

Image caption,
Ben Neilson suffered catastrophic brain injuries in the attack in Ashford High Street last year

The mother of a man who died after being attacked outside a kebab shop in Kent is calling for improvements to town centre policing.

Ben Neilson, 21, suffered catastrophic brain injuries in the attack in Ashford in April last year. Two men were later jailed for his murder.

His mother Barbara said she believed he might still be alive if there had been a police presence there.

Kent Police said it used intelligence to decide where officers should patrol.

Student Mr Neilson, of Willesborough in Ashford, was home from Northumbria University for the Easter break when he was attacked. He died a week later in hospital.

Zion Covey and Gareth Powell, both from Ashford, had been drinking in a nightclub before going to the kebab shop.

Closed cells

Mrs Neilson said it was "common sense" to position a police vehicle or CCTV van in the High Street, where people headed for late-night meals.

"I think if there had been one there that night Ben would still be alive," she said.

"There is no point in having policemen outside a nightclub when 90% of [people] head for the High Street."

She said she believed closing police cells at Ashford had taken officers off the street.

"We need police on the beat, not transferring prisoners to Folkestone," she said.

"If police transport a prisoner, it is 20 minutes there, 20 minutes back and 20 minutes doing paperwork. That's an hour when they should be on the streets here in Ashford."

Image caption,
Powell and Covey were described at Maidstone Crown Court as violent, drunken thugs

A fund set up in memory of her son is supporting a street pastor scheme which begins in Ashford on Friday.

"It is a partnership between the council, the police and the churches to give support to youngsters and stop or defuse a situation before it gets out of hand," she said.

"It is a real, positive move."

Ch Supt Chris Hogben said: "I recognise that had officers been present in the High Street at the precise time on the night that Ben was assaulted, his tragic death may have been avoided.

"But I have to accept that my officers cannot be everywhere all of the time.

"Our patrols do not focus on nightclubs to the exclusion of the town centre.

"We use current intelligence to determine the areas where our patrols need to focus their attention in order to prevent crime."

He said that closing the cells at Ashford had enabled more staff to be in the custody suite at Folkestone.

"Even taking into account the return journey to Folkestone, officers spend more time on patrol in Ashford due to the drastically reduced time that they spend in the police station following arrests."

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