The Crooked Spire could become a no-go zone because of drug abuse in its churchyard, the vicar at the jewel in Chesterfield’s crown has warned.
Addicts and dealers are plaguing the grounds on a daily basis, sullying the image of what should be a divine location and deterring visitors to the world-famous landmark, according to Rev Patrick Coleman.
The concerned clergyman said the problem was “spiralling out of control” and called for an urgent end to the shocking behaviour.
He told the Derbyshire Times that groups of up to 20 individuals descend on the churchyard sometimes five times a day to sell and take drugs – including heroin.
Needles, bongs and other drug paraphernalia are often found dumped in the grounds of the 14th century building – while the addicts and dealers fight, swear, vomit and defecate against the church’s walls in full view of the passing public.
Rev Coleman, who became vicar of the Crooked Spire last year, said: “The problem has never been this bad – it’s spiralling out of control.
The open selling of drugs during the morning and the inevitable semi-comatose state or anti-social behaviour of these people in the afternoon are not a good advertisement for Chesterfield at all.Rev Patrick Coleman
“These individuals are becoming ever more obvious and ever more trouble – we have to call the police and paramedics most days.
“We believe it has now begun to deter visitors.
“The open selling of drugs during the morning and the inevitable semi-comatose state or anti-social behaviour of these people in the afternoon are not a good advertisement for Chesterfield at all.
“There’s a risk the Crooked Spire could become a no-go zone because of the drug trade in the churchyard.”
Colin McKenna, who manages the church shop, said one of the yobs recently spat in his face when he kindly asked them to leave the area.
He has also seen people injecting drugs outside the church.
He added: “A coach party visited the town recently and parked in the lay-by opposite.
“The pensioners were looking forward to visiting the church but they decided to stay in the coach when they saw the riff-raff outside.
“People are shocked and upset at what is happening.”
Paul Wilson, the church’s verger, said: “These individuals need to wake up and realise what impact their actions are having. This should be a safe and happy place.”
Rev Coleman – who regularly speaks to the drug users – stressed that he did not want to see them “swept under the carpet”.
He said: “We’ve reached out to them and offered help – members of the congregation have tried to befriend them – but it’s not worked.
“My message to these people is simple: stop what you’re doing now and find help.
“Enough is enough.”
Police have stepped up patrols in a bid to tackle the problem.
Inspector John Turner, who is in charge of policing in Chesterfield, said: “In partnership with the borough and county councils, we have worked very hard to deal with anti-social behaviour in the town centre during the last 12 months.
“We have authorised many anti-social behaviour dispersal orders to give officers the tools they need to deal with it before it happens and when instances are reported to us. We’ve also worked very hard to deal with the issue of legal highs, targeting the behaviour of those who use them.
“We have seen great improvements as a result but are mindful that often behaviour can be displaced elsewhere when we proactively police an area. Chesterfield Town Centre Safer Neighbourhood Team is aware of ongoing problems in the Rykneld Square area in relation to the taking of substances and for some months have been patrolling it. We’ve also had a mobile police station with CCTV facilities parked there.
“We will continue to monitor the area and deal promptly with any reports we receive. I am pleased to say that we have been successful in obtaining an overall significant reduction of anti-social behaviour reports in the town centre and the borough as a whole. We are ensuring that an appropriate police presence is shown and positive action is taken against offenders who behave in such a way.”
To report anti-social behaviour, call police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.