THE Dartmouth police force came under fire at Monday's town council meeting.

The lack of police presence in the town, particularly in light of anti-social behaviour issues in the Royal Avenue Gardens, has long been a hot topic for residents and councillors in the town.

Cllr Brian Boughton said: 'I had a Townstal resident tell me that she had reported somebody who was selling drugs in Britannia Avenue and no police arrived at all.

'It's disgraceful what we're being subjected to. I wonder how we'd do if the fire service or the ambulance service behaved in this way. A meeting about the new anti-social behaviour order is scheduled for two months time, but that is too late.

'We need street wardens. I urge all the councillors to lobby for street wardens and to make our case as strongly, if not more so, than other towns.'

On Friday at 4.30pm at the Seven Stars pub a man attacked another with a claw hammer. The attacker hit the man, who was known to him, twice in the head, causing injuries that required stitches. The victim is now recovering at home.

The hammer was thrown into the river by the alleged offender but was recovered by police divers. A man was later arrested and charged with affray and possession of an offensive weapon at Torbay magistrates on Monday.

This event occupied the town's police officers, while later on that night extensive damage was caused at the Royal Avenue Gardens' toilets.

Neighbourhood beat manager Pc Iain Simons said: 'Police were unable to attend to the incident in the gardens as they were dealing with a serious hammer attack that took place earlier in the day.'

Doors were pulled off their hinges, locks were broken and the premises was littered with toilet rolls and alcohol bottles.

Sergeant Jerry Ayling said: ' Obviously officers have to prioritise and somebody had been attacked with a hammer, so that takes precedence.

'There are gradings with how we respond – they are immediate, prompt and routine. If there is an offender at the scene of a crime then it would be an immediate or prompt, but if there is no offender then our response is routine and we will get to it within 24 hours.

'Because of the nature of the hammer attack, the scene had to be sealed off and statements have to be gathered from witnesses and that

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takes time. The damage to the toilets was reported to us on Saturday morning by one of the district council workers so an officer would visit the scene as part of the investigation.

'If we received a report of drugs being sold, our response is likely to be prompt or immediate. Having checked the files back to February, we have received no report of drugs being sold in Britannia Avenue.

'I think the number of police in Dartmouth are appropriate for the needs of the town. We are up to strength and I don't believe we are sinking into a crime-ridden state.

'We have to put our proposals for an ASBO before South Hams Council at a full council meeting and it's down to them as to when it's put on the agenda. It's out of our hands, but I am keen to see it in place.'

There are 14 Pcs, two sergeants, a traffic warden, and shortly a part-time traffic warden for the summer season, based at Dartmouth Police Station.

There are three patrol vehicles and one secure van.

The number of staff on duty at any one time varies from two to six. The neighbourhood beat managers Pc Jane Gerrard for Townstal and Pc Iain Simons for Dartmouth town centre also have instated surgeries and private call-out appointments in an attempt to be more available and approachable to the public.