BINNED by at least seven councils this year, Darlington’s new litter police have been accused of using aggressive and intimidating tactics in their efforts to clean up the town.

Enforcement agents from the Kingdom Services Group have issued at least 383 on the spot fines since they began patrolling Darlington in October, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Enlisted to support Darlington Borough Council’s “zero tolerance” approach to littering, Kingdom has had contracts with several other authorities axed or not renewed amid concerns over intimidating behaviour.

Similar allegations have now emerged in Darlington, just weeks after the controversial company began patrolling the streets.

The Northern Echo has heard several anecdotal reports of agents chasing people down the street, tracking smokers and following suspected litterers in a persistent and intimidating manner, entering businesses to confront customers and threatening to fine parents who had not noticed their children dropping litter. On one occasion, an enforcement notice was found on rubbish bags gathered by litter-pickers and awaiting collection.

Kingdom's officers have been praised for quickly improving the appearance of the town centre, with many welcoming their presence in the belief that those who drop litter should face the consequences.

However, some believe that their presence in the town is affecting footfall and have called on the agents to “tone down” their interactions with the public.

The manager of a High Row business said agents had barged into the premises and accused a member of staff of dropping litter, demanding she follow them outside so that she could be fined – even though she had not left the shop all day.

He said: “They tried to access a clinical area to question her with the intention of getting her outside.

“I asked them to leave and told them their behaviour was totally unacceptable but they said they had been told to do it as they’re not allowed to fine someone who’s in a shop.

“With everything that’s going on with the town centre, we don’t need more obstacles stopping people coming in.”

A spokesman for Kingdom said that their officers believed an offence had been committed and left after their request to speak to the staff member was refused.

A security worker said he had concerns after watching interactions between the public and the agents.

He said he witnessed agents pounce after a woman accidentally dropped tissue from her pocket, saying: “They overshadowed her and got really close – I know that can be intimidating and in the security industry, we are trained to back off and give space.

“It’s a good concept but I feel they scare people out of the town and we need the footfall, they need to use common sense and tone it down.”

One woman said her anxious teen step-daughter had been fined after being followed by two officers from the town centre to its outskirts after she lit a cigarette.

She said: “She did eventually drop her cigarette, which she is not disputing but they followed her all that way, just waiting.

“She suffers with panic attacks and they wouldn’t let her call her mum who was nearby.

“They didn’t believe she is 17 and told her she’d be taken to court if anything was wrong.

“I stand with what they’re doing with litter but it doesn’t give them the right to follow young girls.”

Cllr Gerald Lee, who had called on the council to introduce the enforcement agents, called on the officers to “keep a civil tongue” when dealing with the public but said they were making significant progress in cleaning up the town centre.

He urged people to report concerns to the council and said: “Receiving a fine is not the most stress free thing to happen and there will be antagonism between those giving them and those receiving them but officers should act in a civil and courteous manner.

“The easiest thing would be for people to just stop dropping litter, it costs towns an astronomical amount to deal with.”

A spokesman for Kingdom said fines were only handed to people who intentionally drop litter and encouraged anyone struggling to pay them to contact the company.

He said: “Any cases of hardship should be made to Kingdom where the specifics can be discussed and arrangements made.”

A spokeswoman for Darlington Borough Council said Kingdom had been brought in as part of a six-month pilot scheme and that it was too early to say how effective it was.

She added: “We will continue to monitor the service and would encourage people to share their views with us.”

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