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Islington Tribune - by ROISIN GADELRAB
Published: 4 December 2009
Det Insp Yasmin Lalani
Det Insp Yasmin Lalani
Bats block towpath lighting after robberies

VITAL lighting which could have helped prevent a series of knifepoint robberies on Regent’s Canal towpath cannot be installed because of fears it would disturb rare bats, the Tribune has learned.
Police are warning residents not to walk along the canal at night following an increase in robberies near the Packington estate in Islington.
There have been 13 knifepoint robberies along and around the towpath, including in Danbury Street, Raleigh Street and St Paul’s Street, since October 8, Islington Police said this week. A group of up to eight youths, mostly men, operating under cover of darkness, have been targeting lone victims at an isolated spot on the towpath.
But neither Islington Council nor British Waterways (BW) can agree on whose responsibility it is to pay for increased security measures, including lighting.
And, the Tribune has been told, even if the funding was there, improved lighting could upset the bats who thrive around the towpath.
Labour ward councillor Paul Convery said: “There were three excuses. It will cost a lot of money. There’s a grand plan for King’s Cross so we should wait. And there’s some eco-sensitive issues.
“It seems biodiversity is more important than public safety. Some exotic bats live along the towpath and if you illuminate it they will go and live elsewhere.”
A spokesman for the Bat Conservation Trust said: “Street lights affect a number of species. It tends to be more woodland bats. It can affect their feeding and they will move their flight paths to avoid them, which can send them to a more dangerous area.”
Detective Inspector Yasmin Lalani, of Islington’s Robbery Squad, which is investigating the robberies, said: “The canal’s not lit at all. It’s a preservation area for bats. There’s several species of bats and some are sensitive to lights so it’s a question of balancing what kinds of lights you can put around the canal and still have the bats.”
She said the knifepoint robberies along the canal were unusual, and issued a stern warning to suspects. “We know who you are,” she said. “We’d like you to hand yourselves in because we’re coming to get you. We’ll be coming to court to ask for you to be kept in custody.”
Islington Council, police and BW are meeting on Monday to discuss their response to the robberies.
Detective Constable Kevin Johansen said: “It’s groups of youths taking advantage of the fact there’s no lighting around Danbury Street. They live that close by that they can get back home really quickly. They are taking watches, mobile phones, iPods and electrical goods.
“They are hoodied-up and their faces covered. They are aware of identity parades and are quite switched on.”
Police are advising members of the public to avoid taking shortcuts by the towpath at night, not to wear earphones and to carry a panic alarm.
Islington Council’s Lib Dem crime chief Councillor Barbara Smith said: “Naturally, I’m extremely concerned about these attacks but putting lighting in remote areas isn’t always the answer. We’ve been in close discussions with police about safety on the towpath and we value their expert advice.”
Simon Bamford, BW London’s waterways manager, said: “BW does not receive funding to maintain the towpaths at the same level as a local pavement or footpath.
“Whenever we install lighting we work with our bat experts to ensure it does not adversely affect their habitat.”
Anyone with information about the robberies can call the Robbery Squad on 020 7421 0246/50 or St Peter’s Safer Neighbourhoods team on 020 7421 0181.
An 18-year-old woman, from the Packington estate, was charged on Monday with robbery and possession of an offensive weapon. She appeared at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court, where she was remanded in custody.

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