Thursday, 30 August 2007



Violent yobs are driving a restaurant owner out of business.

Simon Clarke, who owns and runs Clarkes restaurant in Argyle Street, says the youths threaten him, his staff and customers.

He gives some of his profits to a charity which cared for his family when his son Chazz was ill. But now he says he may be forced to close because of troublemakers who believe they're "invincible". In a campaign of violence which goes back years Mr Clarke has had a broken bottle held to his throat and thousands of pounds of damage done to his property.

"It's killing us," said Mr Clarke, who owns the restaurant with his wife Lynn.

"I don't know what to do. Police came and in conversation one said I'd made 16 calls to them in the last few months, but what else am I supposed to do?" He believes if something isn't done the problem will only get worse.

"In the last six to eight months it's got absolutely terrible," he said. "And every time police arrest one of them they can only caution them and then take them home.

"It's almost like it's a light switch. These kids have been doing it for so long they realise there's nothing anybody can do about it.

"So they're now going to any extreme because they know they can get away with it. These kids now feel invincible."

Last week two huge and valuable marble pots were pushed over and smashed at the front of the restaurant. The incident with the £1,000 marble pots is the most recent in a long line of attacks.

Mr Clarke said that last year around ten youths ran into the restaurant and grabbed the till. "I went outside to confront them and one kid had also nicked a bottle of red wine, which he smashed," he said.

"He was then up against my throat with this broken bottle of wine.

"Everyone inside seeing this started calling the police.

"That was at 9pm. They didn't arrive until 2.15am. They said they'd been very busy. It's not the police's fault. There's so much they have to do and there's a lack of funding."

On another occasion head chef Simon Mealing had a bottle smashed over his head, causing an injury needing 18 stitches.

The 14 to 18-year-olds hang around in a big group, which means they also intimidate passers-by and residents.

Mr Clarke said: "Some 20 or 30 residents have come to see me after seeing the pots, all saying something has to be done.

"Two of them are thinking about leaving because it's getting that bad.

"The first three tables I had yesterday came, saw the kids and turned around.

"On a Saturday and any night of the week we normally do 40 people a night. Right now we're probably doing 12. Nobody is going to walk past a group of 15-20 kids all shouting obscenities."

The Clarkes give a proportion of the restaurant's takings to Clic Sargent as a thank you for the care their son Chazz received when battling cancer.

Kingsley Pellinger, a chef at the restaurant, added: "Approach them and try and speak to them and it becomes a vendetta. Simon spoke to them and all sorts of things started happening."

Sergeant Deryck Rees, in charge of the Abbey and Kingsmead neighbourhood team, said officers came to the restaurant after hearing about the damage to the pots.

"This crime is currently being investigated and CCTV is being sourced to try and identify the offenders," he said.

"Following the manager's concerns about disorder in the area, I have tasked members of the city centre team to regularly patrol there at key times and we have requested council CCTV operators to monitor the area."

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