Violence in Cardiff's Bute Park 'dark and sinister'

By Natalie Grice
BBC News

  • Published
Media caption,

September 2021: 'Why would somebody attack a park?'

Bute Park at the heart of Cardiff has been the victim of a savage attack on its nature and infrastructure which has left a trail of destruction in its wake.

The damage carried out on Thursday night extended for over a mile through the park, with trees cut, fires started, bins and planters destroyed and even cabling for wi-fi services targeted.

The leafy spaces of the park - originally the grounds of Cardiff Castle which were both gifted to the city in 1947 by the fifth Marquess of Bute - became even more important to local people as coronavirus took hold, offering welcome respite from the four walls of home as lockdown bit in spring 2020.

But the past few months have seen a spate of incidents in the park which some fear is casting a pall over the park's attractiveness to users.

Image source, Secret Garden Cafe
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Damage extended for about a mile throughout the park after Thursday's attack

The summer has witnessed a violent late-night assault which turned into a murder inquiry when 54-year-old victim Dr Gary Jenkins died 16 days after being attacked in the early hours of 20 July.

Dr Jenkins was assaulted just five days after a woman was raped in the early hours of the morning. Both the murder and the rape happened near the southern entrances to the park.

The latest assault is on the structure of the park itself, but has provoked similar feelings of unease.

Image source, Keith Edkins
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Formal beds and walkways are part of the Bute Park offering...
Image source, Geograph / John Lord
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.... but there are more natural, wilder parts to the park too

Like the ruined trees, Melissa Boothman's cafe was a target of the unknown vandals who wreaked havoc in the dark hours.

The Secret Garden cafe is housed in the visitor centre in Bute Park, attached to the nursery where plants and trees are grown which supply greenery and colour across Cardiff's parks.

Melissa set out the damage caused throughout the park in a online video which she called "dark and sinister" and said she felt like a "real attack on the heart of Cardiff".

"They've sawed down oak trees that have taken tens and tens and tens of years to grow, up by Blackweir," she explained.

"They've started a fire in Blackweir woods where they tried to burn the saws they used to cut down the trees.

"They've snapped every single young tree that they were able to snap [including] memorial trees.

"They've got rid of all the new cherry trees in the orchard. They lifted up manhole covers and threw stones down them to try and block drains.

"They lifted up a manhole cover with the power, with the internet that goes to the main building and they've burned that so there's no internet in the education building and the garden centre at the back that the gardeners and the rangers use.

"They trashed some signs at the boat port that goes down the bay. They turned over bins, they turned over planters... they broke into the changing rooms by the cricket pitches."

She called the damage "huge, vast, destructive and nasty. It feels calculated".

The sign at her cafe, trees and a parasol were also targeted.

Image source, Melissa Boothman
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Melissa Boothman called the damage "an attack on the heart of Cardiff"

Melissa told BBC Wales her team had been one of the first to discover the attacks when they arrived to open up on Friday morning and had called her immediately.

"I rushed over and couldn't believe the damage," she said.

In "a short amount of time" there seems to have been a sudden turnaround in what is happening at the park.

"I felt like every week we were going in to work and there were reports. There were arson attacks on Blackweir Bridge, there were attacks and assault [in the park]," she said.

What does she think may lie behind the rise in serious crime and worrying behaviour within the park? One officer attributed it to hot weather, but she is not sure the answer is that simple.

"I'm not sure if it's in response to Covid and people not feeling happy," she said.

To her the park "feels like it's a space that's ours and a sanctuary and a place where people can escape to".

But with recent events in mind, she said: "It feels like it's being threatened and people can't come here anymore."

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Julia Sas says it will take decades to recover from the attack

Police have said the work has to have been the work of several people and are baffled by the motive behind it.

Julia Sas is the park's manager and has said it will take decades to return the arboretum to its former state. At least half of the 50 trees destroyed were memorials and park staff now have to contact the families affected.

She has been left traumatised by the most recent events, saying: "I cannot understand anybody making such a deliberate and systematic attack on a park. Bute Park represents a sanctuary where people have come during Covid.

"It's an an act of cowardice but is a very disturbing act as well."

Paul Barratt has been involved with Friends of Bute Park as a volunteer for 10 years. The group stopped meeting as the pandemic took over but is reforming just as the park may need it most.

He too wonders if lockdown has been a factor in the rise in incidents, including the latest.

He said: "They [the attackers] were so dedicated to doing it. As Friends of Bute Park, we don't understand why anyone wanted to do this.

"All the time that we have volunteered, we never saw anything like this. It's really out of the ordinary.

"It's very strange and creepy."

Image caption,
Young trees were ripped down and older ones attacked with saws

He said the park was a rarity in British cities in that it existed right in the heart of Cardiff, adding: "We have got a fairy tale castle at one end and the oldest cathedral site in Britain [at Llandaff] at the other."

Melissa and others are hoping to turn a negative experience into a positive.

She is in talks with the council and other parties hoping to organise an event to bring people together, such as a walk and mass picnic.

A theatre producer has been in touch to suggest that, as the bad events happened at night, there should be a counter-event held at night to reclaim the space for the people.

They are hoping to set up a crowd funder to help pay for replacement plants and fund restoration work, while a wood spinner has offered to take the pieces of oak left after the destruction of some trees and transform them.

Melissa said: "We want a message of relation and strength and to say 'this is our space'."

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