Tennis players’ safety fears as club targeted by vandals

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Christchurch Tennis Club
Vandals have thrown outdoor furniture around at Christchurch Tennis Club at the Iford Sports Complex

REPEATED overnight disturbances at Christchurch Tennis Club have sparked safety concerns among its membership, its frustrated manager said.

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Rachel Cocking, who is also head coach, told the A&T that those responsible might also be at risk and was worried for their welfare.

Over the past six weeks, seating had been upturned, with a children’s picnic bench and a bicycle thrown onto the roof of the pavilion building, during ongoing incidents at the Iford Sports Complex in Barrack Road.

A small, sharp kitchen knife was also found on the patio outside the building the morning after one of the anti-social gatherings – just before a children’s coaching session took place.

The latest incident last Monday night saw benches moved and overturned onto one of the courts. The offenders also hung a plastic chair halfway up a court’s chain-link fence.

Christchurch Tennis Club
A plastic chair was lobbed onto a fence at Christchurch Tennis Club

One of the club’s full-size wooden picnic benches appears to have been stolen, while another was thrown in a nearby hedge.

“This has been ongoing for about six weeks,” Ms Cocking said. “We’ve had children, we believe, just hanging around the courts and outside the clubhouse.

“It’s very dark and there is no access to the road or any homes, so it’s very secluded, which is perfect for them.

“We called the police when we found they had left a kitchen knife on the patio outside the clubhouse. It was like a little vegetable knife with a black handle and a three-inch blade.

“Obviously, we have a lot of kids during the day for tennis coaching, but luckily our staff found the knife and removed it before they arrived.”

Although no significant damage had been caused and there had been no attempt to break into the clubhouse, Ms Cocking said the incidents of furniture being moved around had been getting worse.

This prompted fears that matters could escalate, she explained, with a feeling the club was less safe.

“There is concern for the safety of the club,” she continued.

“There is concern that the club could be at risk of being broken into, and there is a worry that it is not a safe place to go. When you’re running a community tennis club, that’s not the environment you want.”

Christchurch Tennis Club
Outdoor furniture dumped on the courts at Christchurch Tennis Club

A post from the club, with pictures of the trouble caused during last Monday night, has been shared on local Facebook pages. It urges people to come forward if they saw any suspicious activity around the premises.

Ms Cocking has held the lease for the Christchurch Town Council-owned facility for 10 years and been involved on-site for a total of 15 years. She said before the recent disturbances there had been a “massive problem” with anti-social behaviour at the club up until about eight years ago.

Praising the support she had received from local police over the latest incidents, she hoped that those responsible for the trouble would be caught.

But she added: “I’d also like to find out why they’re doing it. If they are children hanging around outside when it’s this cold and doing this sort of thing, there’s possibly cause for concern over their welfare. Maybe they also need to be helped.”

In a bid to tackle the problem, the coach said the club was considering moving one of the pavilion’s interior cameras to increase the CCTV coverage outside.

A Dorset Police spokesperson told the A&T the force was continuing to investigate reports of ongoing anti-social behaviour at the club.

“The local neighbourhood policing team has been made aware,” the spokesperson said. “No arrests have been made. Enquiries are being carried out.”

Those with information should contact Dorset Police on 101, quoting crime reference number 55190172467, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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