Anti-social behaviour by drunks and drug addicts continues to bedevil Inverness High Street, fed-up business owners claimed last night.
Despite a police base in the city’s Town House yards from where much of the anti-social behaviour unfolds, the problem persists, the businesses say.
A distressing fracas in front of Buonissimo Italian Street Food at 21 High Street two days ago sparked an angry reaction from owner Andrea Miola.
He told the Press and Journal: “There someone on the street every day who shouts, screams or barks all day long. He ended up attacking an officer who was trying to help him and suddenly there was an ambulance and three police cars there.”
Police Scotland have confirmed that a 48-year-old man was arrested in connection with a disturbance on the High Street last Thursday.
Mr Miola added: “There are a lot of drunks and the druggies who hang about there at the top of the High Street. I have seen them vomit and collapse.
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“It’s not good for a city like Inverness which claims to be a tourist place.”
Suzanne Ross is the manager of Lush cosmetics store, a few doors down from Buonissimo.
She said: “Things have improved slightly over the past year, with the police nearer by and cameras in place. The difficulty is that there are some strange people around who don’t seem to have carers.
“A lot of customers are concerned and when it gets bad I close the doors.”
Ms Ross said the benches at the top of the High Street didn’t help the situation.
She said: “In response to a request from elderly people and other members of the public, we campaigned to have them taken away, and it really helped. But they are back now.”
Inverness Business Improvement District (BID) community safety manager John McDonald said: “The benches don’t help. I can understand why they’re there, but our long-term view is they don’t help.”
Mr McDonald acknowledged the difficulties on the High Street, but said there had been significant improvement in the past year.
He said: “The trouble is caused by a small minority of people and isn’t happening on a daily basis.”
He and Mr Miola will meet next month with the police and representatives from Highland Council.
He said: “I’ve informed the police again of Andrea’s concerns. BID shares his concerns, although we can say the evidence suggests that the antisocial behaviour has decreased.
“It might be that after we have met and discussed current matters with the relevant bodies, other public agencies need to get involved.”
Controversial High Street benches
In the past two years, the benches at the top of Inverness High Street have been removed and reinstated amid divided opinions.
The four benches in front of McDonald’s were removed in 2016 for a trial two-month period to combat anti-social behaviour and brought back after a social media clamour in their favour by the public.
At the time Inverness Chamber of Commerce chairman Stewart Nicol said he approved of the move, despite fearing it would move the problem elsewhere.
He said: “I think on balance it’s a difficult decision with lots of factors at play, and I think that it is a good decision to reinstate something of presence in the High Street.”
Last year, two of the benches were moved to another part of the High Street to allow the café Buonissimo to put out a few of their own tables and chairs.
Buonissimo owner Andrea Miola said at the time: “It’s a good thing not only for us but for the city and the families who, every day, come here to the High Street.
“It was also a problem with drunk people who use the benches and used to sit here every day complaining and shouting.”
Two benches remain in front of McDonald’s, a continuing magnet for antisocial behaviour, say nearby business owners.
Chief Inspector James Rice, acting Inverness area commander, said: “We are committed to providing a highly visible presence in the area in the form of the Inverness City Centre Policing Team based in the Town House.
“This is an arrangement which has now been in place for almost a year and we believe this has already made a positive difference in the city centre.
“We are committed to working with the public, Highland Council, Inverness BID and other partners to provide reassurance and deter criminality and anti-social behaviour, while also dealing with any issues which do arise.
“The public and local businesses have a role to play in helping us deal with any anti-social behaviour which does occur and that is to report it to us at the time so we can take the appropriate action.”