Ben Waugh, who runs a bicycle hire shop on the seafront at Bournemouth, has lived in the seaside resort all his life but has never seen so many people packed on to the beach – and so much terrible behaviour.
“I understand why people wanted to come,” he said, as the cleanup continued around him. “It’s the best beach around and when the weather’s good it’s like being in Benidorm. But what happened here this week was horrific.”
Waugh watched aghast as groups of revellers took drugs and drank their way through countless crates of beer. “There was a Lord of the Flies vibe to it. The atmosphere was ugly.”
John White, a retired carer, said he had seen the chaos coming as the temperature soared and, rather than take his normal stroll on the beach, had headed inland to the New Forest.
“People were camping on the cliffs and the beaches. There were mobile homes everywhere. There are only a few toilets. I dread to think what the back of the beach huts is like. Shameful.”
A major incident was declared on Thursday after up to half a million people flocked to the sandy Dorset beaches.
White is concerned that the invasion could lead to an increase in coronavirus infections. “Elderly people stayed away – they are too sensible to go near. But you wonder if this will lead to a rise in Covid. We haven’t got this right at all. Next time we get a hot day they should close the access roads. Simple as that.”
Council workers and volunteers worked on Thursday night and Friday morning to clear the beach of many tonnes of rubbish. It was not only wrappers, bottles and barbecues that were left, though there were plenty of them. Unlucky crews had to deal with human faeces left in a box on the beach and discarded underwear.
Peter Ryan, the founder of Dorset Devils, a litter-picking group who took part in the cleanup, said the beach was left in the worst state he had ever seen it.
“The sights and smell were horrendous, like nothing I’ve ever come across before. There was the smell of weed, urine and excrement, and we found so many empty beer bottles. There were cans, wrappers, wet wipes and even underpants. It was horrific.”
On Friday it was much less busy. A few stragglers had camped on the beach, amid the gorse on the clifftops. Someone had bedded down on a crazy golf course.
The most serious incident happened on Thursday evening whenthree men, all in their 20s and from London, were stabbed during a fight near the amusements on Bournemouth pier.
Vikki Slade, the Lib Dem leader of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council, described the day as “chaos” and a “breakdown in public behaviour”.
She said she had been calling for months for people in England to be ordered to stay within their own county or within a certain postcode area near their home, rather than being allowed to drive across the country.
Slade said the council did not have the power to close the beaches but said the government should devolve such powers to local police forces when needed. “Otherwise, how do you get hundreds of thousands of people off the beach? Guidelines are useless. You need laws and powers.”
She said there was a funding issue, too. “Small counties like Dorset with a small and poorly funded police force and two councils that have had huge funding gaps simply don’t have the resources to deal with visitors who are behaving as though it’s a festival when they are not paying for the privilege.”
Downing Street insisted the issue of overcrowded beaches was not one for ministers, who would only act if there were indications of a rise in Covid-19 infection rates.
Asked about the scenes on Thursday, Boris Johnson’s deputy spokesman said: “It’s a matter for local authorities to manage numbers, alongside emergency services and Public Health England. They’re best placed to make those decisions on a case-by-case basis, should locations become overcrowded.”
On Johnson’s view of the scenes, the spokesman said: “Everyone should be able to enjoy the sunshine, and we understand people want outdoor exercise and to enjoy public space, but it’s important that we don’t undo the hard work of the British public in reducing the transmission of this virus.”
Back on the beach, Krisztina, who runs a beachside store, said she was still reeling. “Our local people are lovely. It wasn’t them who caused trouble. I don’t get why people came so far. There were people here from Birmingham, even from Newcastle upon Tyne. It’s made me wonder if I should give up and go somewhere else, to be honest.”
Read the original article at The Guardian