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'Reclaim the towpath': Boaters plan human chain along River Lea in solidarity after violent summer muggings

PUBLISHED: 15:41 22 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:15 25 September 2017

Boaters promoting their event. Picture: Mike Doherty

Boaters promoting their event. Picture: Mike Doherty

Mike Doherty

Boaters plan to "reclaim the towpath" this weekend, by forming a human chain along the Lee Navigation to show solidarity amid rising fears for their safety.

One man who was attacked cycling along the canal in August called for help at the Anchor and Hope. Picture: Matthew Black/Flickr/Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 2.0One man who was attacked cycling along the canal in August called for help at the Anchor and Hope. Picture: Matthew Black/Flickr/Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Organisers decided to hold the event on Sunday after a spate of violent muggings over the summer, along the towpath of the River Lea near Springfield Park.

The Gazette reported in August that a young father had been surrounded by a gang of masked robbers as he cycled beside the River Lea, punched to the ground and told: “Shut up or we’ll kill you.” Police believe the same gang were behind eight robberies and robbery attempts in the space of four days.

In the aftermath, a survey conducted by some of the boaters on social media revealed that just over half the 500 towpath users who took part were avoiding the area if possible through fear. 
Organiser Mike Doherty, who has lived on a boat for 14 years, told the Gazette: “There always have been attacks and robberies along the canal. In winter we usually have a little spate, but this summer has been particularly bad. As boaters on the canals it’s very hard for us to avoid the towpaths.”

Although he has never personally been attacked, he knows some people who have been mugged.

"There always have been attacks and robberies along the canal. In winter, we usually have a little spate – but this summer has been particularly bad"

Mike Doherty

“It is a traumatic thing to happen for a person who is just trying to get home, and of course it’s happened to cyclists and joggers,” he said.
“We are often quite a transient community, because we have to move around the system – so you might have different neighbours every week. But it’s events like this Sunday that bring us together and hopefully make us all feel safer.”

Reclaim the Towpath: Towpathers Unite will take place Sunday at 2pm by the Riverside Café on the Lee Navigation towpath in Springfield Park, Lower Clapton. All towpath users are invited to form the human chain – including boaters, rowers, dog-walkers, cyclists and canoeists. The event is expected to last two hours, and participants are being asked to bring whistles, drums and other noisy equipment.

A safety workshop will be held afterwards on the boating community “village hall”, the Village Butty. Boaters have already taken steps to improve community safety with 30 attending a free self-defence class.

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