Tennis dispersal zone keeps touts at bay

A dispersal zone put in place to eliminate ticket touts during the Wimbledon tennis championships has been praised as a huge success after reducing the number of sales of stolen or forged tickets by almost 100%.

Safer Merton – a partnership including Merton Council and the police – worked closely with teams in Wandsworth to create the first cross-border dispersal zone in the UK where Police had powers from the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 to combat the ticket touting and associated problems.

The methods used were simple, with ticket touts known to the Police being contacted by recorded letter beforehand to warn them of the dispersal zone and the powers the Police would have. They were told that anyone found illegally selling tickets inside the zone could be banned from the area for up to 24 hours and later arrested if they were caught again.

The zone was introduced after a marked increase in touting over the past few years when as many as 50 people, touts and their teams, would congregate near Southfields tube hoping to attract spectators on their way to the tennis. The Police utilised their powers of stop and search but touts would just leave and return or get wise and use someone else, for example a shop keeper or local, to hold the tickets or cash evidence making it difficult for Police to make arrests.

The new methods used have helped reduced the number of incidents of forged tickets at the Wimbledon ticket gate from 200 in 2007 to just 6 in 2008, a 97% reduction. Criminal offences associated with stolen or forged tickets were also reduced with the number of stop and search incidents and arrests down by 60% and 70% respectively. The implication and use of this zone has attracted interest from organisations such as the National Football Unit, the national rugby stadium at Twickenham, Chelsea football club and Wembley Stadium.

Councillor Tariq Ahmad, cabinet member for community safety and engagement at Merton Council said:

“This new dispersal zone was a great success and is an excellent example of cross-borough cooperation with the Councils, Police and other agencies working in partnership to put residents and visitors to the borough first. The fact this new zone has also gained such interest from other sporting organisations demonstrates that Merton is leading the way in innovative crime reduction initiatives.”

Superintendent Graeme Thompson, Merton Police said:

‘ With the All England club being chosen as a venue for the 2012 Olympic Games having a safe environment for visitors and people living in the area will be increasingly important. Not only has the zone helped decrease crime and create this more secure area, but it has also opened doors for future events around the UK to use similar tactics.”