Fights, drinking and harassment - the darker side of Cheltenham Festival

  • ITV News' Sabet Choudhury explores the issue of anti-social behaviour at Cheltenham Festival.

As the Cheltenham Festival gets underway tens of thousands of people pour into the area giving local businesses a boost, but it can lead to a rise in anti-social behaviour.

With more than 200,000 people expected to attend the festival over the four days, the influx of people does bring some safety concerns, especially for women.

Gilli Appleby, CEO of Gloucestershire Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, said: "We know that they (women) change their behaviour and it might be that they don't go running in the evening or they may not go out.

"We will also have reports of, some women will choose to move out of Cheltenham for the week and go elsewhere.

"And our main concern is about the low-level assaults, in terms of harassment, in terms of the language people use or men in particular, and the impact that has.

The festival does bring a boost to the local economy. Credit: ITV News

"Nobody reports that because it's not regarded as important enough. The cumulative effect of that is not good and not comfortable."

Like any event of size, it takes a massive police presence. Gloucestershire Police will be increasing its presence on the streets of Cheltenham throughout the festival.

Inspector Mike Yates, from Gloucestershire Constabulary, said: "We see occasionally, violence, you occasionally see fights between individuals, occasionally excess alcohol drinking so people behaving in a way that's unpleasant for others to witness, public order offences, that type of thing.""Our jobs are always difficult so this is just another element of it.

"It's something we're very much prepared for, we're used to it so you know every year we'll put the planning mechanisms into place and we'll be absolutely ready for an increased volume of people."

Like previous years - Cheltenham Borough Council has also granted licences for two venues to work as strip clubs - a move that hasn't been that well received.Gilli Appleby said: "It's the message that it sends out, it's the objectification of women.

"From my point of view, if you've seen women dancing and performing, then does that mean every other woman in Cheltenham should dance and perform for you when you go out onto the street?

"I don't think it does Cheltenham any good, to be seen as a place where you go to the races and then go to a bar of that nature."Cllr Martin Horwood, from Cheltenham Borough Council, said: "I understand that and I'd far rather people were talking about the races themselves, or about all the wonderful food and entertainment you can get in Cheltenham, and not about these kinds of venues.

"But on the other hand, it would send a terrible message if we had an unregulated venue and something terrible happened and there was some kind of awful incident, and that would then look bad on us because we hadn't regulated it or licensed it properly."

Thousands of people flock to the festival. Credit: ITV News

Most years of the festival do pass without major incident and the organisers of the event are keen to keep it that way.André Klein, General Manager at the Jockey Club which organises the festival, said: "We acknowledge that there have been issues in the past and there probably always will be when you get this number of people at any event.

"So what we've done, we've got about fifty-way finders and they'll be easily noticeable, they'll be wearing a lovely hat and a big bright orange tabard or pink tabard with 'Love our turf' on it which is the name of the initiative and these guys are directing people to the nearest toilets, they're directing people to the nearest corner store, whatever it is, and the quickest way to the racecourse and they're armed with bin bags picking up rubbish or anything that the racegoer might happen to drop."