North Yorkshire Police join major operation to prevent sexual offences after record-breaking figures

University students and a Project Vigilant police officer

North Yorkshire Police join major operation to prevent sexual offences after record-breaking figures

GB News
Anna Riley

By Anna Riley


Published: 25/09/2023

- 10:54

Almost 200,000 sexual offences were recorded last year - the highest figure on record

North Yorkshire Police has become one of the latest forces to deploy a specialist team of officers in York’s night-time economy to help prevent sexual offences and keep people safe.

Project Vigilant is a national police operation first piloted by Thames Valley Police and aims to seek out those who prey on vulnerable people in busy locations at night.


It comes as the police recorded 193,566 sexual offences in England and Wales in the year ending March 2022, the highest level recorded according to the ONS.

GB News joined Project Vigilant North Yorkshire Police officers on patrol in York during university Freshers’ Week to see what the operation entails.

A briefing was held by Sergeant Oli Lewis ahead of the operation starting in which he outlined that the operation would be through a combination of uniformed patrols and plainclothes officers.

He continued: “We’re going to go out in our night time economy and identify any people who are displaying signs of predatory sexual behaviour.

“We’re there to prevent any sexual violence happening and that’s through proactive disruptive patrols.

“We’re there to identify any vulnerable people and safeguard them through referrals to our Street Angels throughout the evening and to York ambulance service should that be required.”

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Woman smoking in York

Sergeant Oli Lewis said: 'We’re going to go out in our night time economy and identify any people who are displaying signs of predatory sexual behaviour'

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Fully updated, officers head out into the city's ever-popular nightlife and we are told by Sergeant Oli Lewis that Project Vigilant forms part of the force’s Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls strategy.

“This project just adds another layer of protective policing that we can offer to the public to be there to ensure that if sexual violence is happening in our night time economy then we need to be one step ahead of it and we need to prevent it,” he said.

With York a tourist city filled with both visitors and residents both day and night, this operation looks out for those who can become more vulnerable as the evening wears on.

Sergeant Stuart Henderson, of York Neighbourhood Policing Team, is leading the plainclothes officers on Project Vigilant and he said: “We’re looking for any suspicious behaviour, people that might be reacting oddly to the presence of uniformed officers, and any vulnerable people that might be around.

“So that might be that they’re vulnerable due to the amount of alcohol they’ve drunk, or in a vulnerable situation because they’ve been detached from friends.

“So that’s who we’re looking for to prevent any offences and to protect those people.”

As well as protecting revellers, the operation also supports those who work in pubs and clubs.

Police stop in York

As well as protecting revellers, the operation also supports those who work in pubs and clubs

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David Douthwaite is the Head Doorman at Manahatta in York and sees the benefits of Project Vigilant to the night-time economy.

He told GB News: “After the Covid, all the lockdowns, generally the entertainment side of it has suffered big time, it’s just starting to get going again now really so I think it’s a massive help.

“If you’ve got those that are possibly out and about to maybe do a bit of mischief, just seeing them [police officers] just takes it down.”

As the clock ticked on towards midnight, we asked people out enjoying the nightlife just how safe they felt in the city, with a resounding agreement that they felt well protected in York.

One student out on Freshers’ Week said: “I was spiked when I was at home in Hull, it was a horrible experience, but now that I’m in York I’m kind of thinking it won’t happen to me, I’m hoping so anyway.”

Her friend said: “When I see the police, I do feel a lot safer whenever they’re around or even just ambulances or something like that.”

Another woman who works and lives in York believes it is the safest city in the UK and said: “I never have felt bad walking home at 3am or 4am, it’s always quite safe.”

This was echoed by another woman on a night out who said: “I feel quite safe in York because it’s quite small and I know a lot of people as well.”

Police officers

One student said: 'When I see the police, I do feel a lot safer'.

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A second-year law student told us: “It’s fairly safe, I think it’s quite a nice city in terms of that there are enough places to go for a nice night out but it’s not too busy.”

Another student who had just started university said: “I’ve only been here three weeks and I’ve gone for a few nights out and the police officers around here are brilliant.

“The bouncers are absolutely excellent, really easy to get on with, but you’ll see them go in and if anyone is messing around, they’ll take them out straight away.”

Throughout the evening, multiple people were stopped and questioned by police, but no arrests were made.

As much as Project Vigilant is about proactive policing, it’s also to ensure vulnerable people are not alone and can get home safely.

The operation is set to continue into the festive period and beyond, and Detective Chief Inspector Carol Kirk, of North Yorkshire Police believes the deployment will help the force ensure it fulfils its commitment to making sure the public in York are safe and feel safe.

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