Leeds Festival 2017: Major police operation swings into action

Chief Superintendent Keith Gilert in the festival control room.
Chief Superintendent Keith Gilert in the festival control room.

A major police operation has swung into action as a crowd equal to the population of Harrogate gets ready to enjoy this year’s Leeds Festival.

The dedicated control room, based inside Wetherby Police Station, went live on Wednesday when CCTV footage from the site began streaming onto the big screens.

An aerial views of Leeds Festival back in 2014. Picture: SWNS/Ceri Oakes.

An aerial views of Leeds Festival back in 2014. Picture: SWNS/Ceri Oakes.

It is from there that Chief Superintendent Keith Gilert is overseeing three simultaneous West Yorkshire Police operations, focusing on traffic, crime and public order.

“The planning, like most of these events, starts with the debrief of the previous year’s events,” he said. “It tends to happen in October time after the festival season is finished.

“It goes on from them throughout the rest of the year. What’s the generic threat assessment? Do we have any emerging trends around crime or traffic issues?”

Police data shows 200 offences were recorded last year, with theft accounting for almost two thirds.

Unfortunately, you will get people who will come here and make themselves vulnerable by drinking too much or taking drugs.

Chief Superintendent Keith Gilert, West Yorkshire Police

Chief Supt Gilert said: “If you pick up a small town-sized group of people and place them effectively in a fenced community, you’re looking to the issues akin to Leeds city centre on a Friday or Saturday night and placing it in a field in Bramham.

“Unfortunately, you will get people who will come here and make themselves vulnerable by drinking too much or taking drugs.

“People who are perhaps not used to being away from home, they get lost or disorientated on a big site. Others are camping for the first time and will leave their property in a tent which isn’t secure.”

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Managing the traffic around Leeds Festival's site in Bramham Park is a challenge each year.

Managing the traffic around Leeds Festival's site in Bramham Park is a challenge each year.

Aside from theft, last year’s figures reveal there were 30 recorded offences of drug dealing, 10 of drug possession, a small number of assaults and one rape.

Police on the ground work closely with Festival Republic’s security team, who will detain anyone caught committing a crime until they are taken into custody.

And even before the festival begins, officers make deterrent visits to people considered likely of visiting the site with criminal motives in mind.

Others will spend this weekend primed to respond to any public order issues which might arise.

The main stage crowd are showered in confetti during the set from Foals last year.

The main stage crowd are showered in confetti during the set from Foals last year.

“That’s not as big as it used to be because we don’t have the issues we had when Leeds Festival took place at other venues,” Chief Supt Gilert said. “It’s about having a visible presence if we do have to deal with an incident.

“People come to festivals to have a good time. The crowds are, generally speaking, very liberal and give each other space. It’s also very well covered by the security team.”

And beyond the site itself, traffic officers work with the festival’s staff to do all they can to prevent a repeat of last year’s long queues.

Chief Supt Gilert said: “After the issues we had with traffic last year, we looked at it with the traffic management teams which Festival Republic employs both on and off site. We also worked with the local community, particularly in the village of Thorner.”

READ MORE: Leeds Festival security has been increased ‘dramatically’

A lot of the problems in 2016 stemmed from people dropping off and picking up on the roads instead of in the designated areas.

Another factor is the change in festival habits, with more people visiting for the day instead of the full weekend.

“We’ve got far more cars coming and going every day and that, given the festival is in a relatively rural area, was putting too much pressure on the road network,” Chief Supt Gilert said.

“The traffic plan this year is completely different. We’ve improved the signage, we’ve put in closures so people can’t circumvent the system. It’s far more traffic managed and directed.”

And if all goes to plan, the majority of 70,000 or so fans expected at the festival each day will get on site without a hitch and can just focus on enjoying the music.

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