Personal safety in the park is under the spotlight after a recent attack leaves woman unhurt but badly shaken. With students returning to University today and the library open 24 hours, new contributor Ki Shah examines this contentious issue.

Victoria Kidgell captures Singleton Park during the Light Up the Park event in 2008

Just after 8am on Thursday the 6th of January a woman crossing the park in the direction of Singleton Hospital became aware of a man following her.  She changed direction to try to shake him off, and when he continued to follow her she confronted him, asking why he was following her.  The man responded by saying he wanted directions to the hospital.  Shortly afterwards he grabbed her throat.  As she struggled with him they fell to the floor, at which point he got up and fled in the direction of Brynmill Lane.  Thankfully the woman was not hurt in the attack but was left, quite understandably, badly shaken according to police reports.  The police have issued an appeal for information.  The attacker is described as a white male, 5’6 tall, 18-20 years old, of small build and with curly or permed hair.  He was wearing a multicoloured surf jacket and blue jeans. The Siren hopes that the woman involved is recovering well and that the attacker is found very soon.

This is the first major reported incident in Singleton park since the mugging of a student at knifepoint last October.  On that occasion the male victim reported that he was able to talk to his attacker, who stole his iPod and bag before running off when he called for help on seeing other people in the park.  The same attacker apparently robbed an elderly Brynmill resident later that day, with police believing he was looking to fund a drug habit.  Students are often targets for home thefts and with the plethora of gadgets many carry on their person it is easy to see why they might be targeted in muggings.  The nature of this latest attack is worryingly different as the assailant’s actions indicate purely an intent to harm.  Indeed, as part of the police appeal PC Simon Thomas stated “this man needs to be caught before something more serious happens.”

Since the incident the University has emailed all students and staff, initially with a link to the BBC News website story and the statement that “We would like to take this opportunity to remind students not to walk through Singleton park alone at times when the park is quiet or before/after daylight hours”.  Later an email was sent by the police representatives on campus with general “common sense” reminders for staying safe; the first bullet point stated that “you are safest in bright, well-lit and busy areas”.  Unfortunately, there is no route from the University to Brynmill which is wholly “well-lit” or busy.  The issue of lighting in Singleton Park has been batted back and forth between the University and the Council for decades.  Currently the main path between the University and Langland Terrace is lit by streetlights of which two at any time are usually not working, the overall effect of these lights being one bright path surrounded by areas of deep shadow.  The other pathways are sparsely lit.

Any advice about not walking through the park in the dark ignores the fact that the alternative is a huge detour across the most poorly lit parts of an empty campus and along Mumbles road.  With an attacker such as the police are searching for currently, do the University really believe that dark spaces on campus such as the meadow exit and the sea front car parks are inherently safer?  The advice about not walking alone is wise, but often impractical for those who work or have vastly different study times from their friends and housemates.  The University’s advice one-liner seems woefully insufficient in terms of safeguarding its students.

Flyer for the Walking Bus organised by the Union last year

As exams start and increased numbers of students stay late in the library it remains for the Student Union to step in with practical support.  Previously the walking bus was an innovative solution to the “Singleton Dark” problem.  In the long distant history of the SU there was once a “Night Bus” service, in which an SU minibus would give students a safe ride home for a voluntary fee.  The SU also needs to continue to campaign for a safer route from the University to the residential areas around it by pressuring both the Council and University to take safety concerns seriously, and through involvement in actions or marches taking inspiration from movements such as Reclaim the Night.  The University should realise that its location, a major selling point in its promotional literature, comes with an inherent problem concerning the safety of its students which needs to be practically addressed.

You can read more about the campus police liaison including useful numbers and further advice on personal safety and crime reduction here.  From all of us here on The Siren team, remember no action can guarantee your safety, but a few little changes might help reduce the risks: wait that extra 15 minutes so you can walk with your friend rather than alone, take the detour along the most visible path you can, or spend that fiver on a taxi.  Look after each other.