The attack at Freehold Metrolink station is shocking in how brutal it was but sadly it was not surprising.

POLICE WERE called to Freehold station on Thursday 8th March following reports of a man in his 50s being brutally attacked by a gang of men. 

Last year a man was struck by a rock which was thrown through the tram window at the same location.

I, along with local residents and councillors, have been raising complaints about anti-social behaviour on the track for years. We have specifically highlighted this station as a hot spot where young people gather creating a threatening environment for passengers going to and from the tram station.

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Most times young people are doing nothing illegal and it is understandable they want to meet as friends to socialise. But for the single passenger leaving the station in darkness, with the lift often broken, they can be intimated when some of those gathering are loud, showing off, sometimes doing drugs and generally causing a nuisance.

That isn’t an unfair representation, it is consistently the experience of people living near the station. Passengers and I have witnessed it myself while meeting residents at the station. I have spoken to young people during these visits and one thing which stood out in a number of those conversations was how unsafe young people themselves feel. When returning alone or in small groups from school, college or meeting friends they also feel unsettled by seeing groups of people at the foot of the station.

It is also the case, and this has been an ongoing problem, that young people use the tram network to ‘station hop’. There are regular complaints about the lack of respect shown to other passengers and there have been previous incidents at stations along the line.

This year saw that a concerted effort has been made to bring order to the network, with the introduction of 24 new TravelSafe Officers supported by 50 Police Community Support Officers. These additional officers work alongside existing police and Metrolink staff along the network.

It is correct to say that serious anti-social behaviour is rare, with over 41m passenger journeys across the network recent attacks though harrowing need to be put into perspective. However must be accepted that passengers leaving the tram onto stations in the evening and at nights, particularly those which can feel immediately isolated creates a particular vulnerability.

What is clear is that the regular low level anti-social behaviour and lack of respect being shown must also be tackled. That includes within the tram carriage itself, on the stations and on the car parks and bridges around the stations.

Beyond the station, and this is particular to a small number of locations, is to fully tackle the immediate areas which themselves attract groups to gather. Whether it’s the lack of meaningful security at Hartford Mill which still acts as a magnet for young people or the feeling of isolation of the Chadderton South, Hollinwood station at night more can be done, although all of those examples will ultimately benefit from current and future redevelopment.

And while the focus of complaints at the stations I have received has been about younger people, my own evening journeys on the train have witnessed adults behaving badly. Any approach mustn’t be about just tackling young people but about creating a safe, respectful network at all hours, for all passengers and for nearby residents.

For now our thoughts remain with the man who was attacked, and his family.

I would encourage residents to report any information they might have on the offenders to the Oldham Police Station by calling 0161 856 8929 during office hours 7 days a week, or by calling 101 or 999 outside of office hours or the case of an emergency. 

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