Buses have had to be diverted away from a busy town centre after yobs caused misery for drivers and passengers.
Police say there has been a “spike” in unsavoury incidents in recent weeks in Houghton, with many residents reporting growing problems with anti-social behaviour involving youths
The situation has got so bad that bus provider Go North East this week said it had to divert buses away from a usual route which goes through Houghton town centre.
Staff at the Lidl supermarket have also reported issues involving teenagers in the past few weeks.
Other incidents residents have reported have included:
* Causing buses to stop by pulling the emergency cord and throwing bottles at bus windows, causing them to shatter
* Youths cycling down the middle of the road towards oncoming traffic
* Vandalising bus stops with graffiti and smashing windows
* Causing a disturbance by hitting shop shutters
* Throwing eggs and stones at vehicles
* Setting fires
* Verbal abuse aimed at people walking through the town and spitting on people
One woman said: “I am terrified of leaving the house after 4.45pm in case I get physically attacked by these youths and there will be no CCTV to cover it.
“Something needs done. The issue is growing day by day.”
Go North East tweeted earlier this week: “We are sorry, but due to continued acts of vandalism and antisocial behaviour, we have again temporarily removed all buses from Houghton-le-Spring Church and Newbottle Street.
“Please walk to the stops on Hillside Way (outside Lidl) to board your bus.”
Stephen King, head of commercial and retail for Go North East, said: “For the safety of our customers and drivers we have been diverting the buses away from the town centre when incidents have occurred, which is inconvenient for people wanting to get the bus home or get off in the town centre.
“We are working with the police and have reported all incidents involving buses to them.
“This behaviour isn’t something our drivers or customers should have to experience. The damage to our buses is also a great concern, because that can have serious consequences for the safety of everyone.”
Among those who have faced disruption is Gerald Hirst, who travels regularly to the town from Crook, and has been on buses which have been subject to intimidating behaviour by the group - up to 30 at a time - and interference with the outside of the vehicles.
The 60-year-old charity shop manager said: “There have been times when they have been circling around the bus and somebody is going to get hurt.
“One of the things they do is lift the back engine cover up, so the driver has to get out of the bus, put it down, and then it starts again, it’s a tough job for the driver.
“Some bus passenger or someone else is going to end up giving them a short, sharp shock if it continues to go on.
“They have been taking the buses off and putting them on a different route and I can see why.”
Neighbourhood Sergeant Simon Marshall said police are aware of the growing problem of anti-social behaviour in Houghton and plans are being put in place to make residents in the town feel safe.
“We are aware there has been a spike in anti-social behaviour in Houghton over recent weeks which have affected local businesses and buses,” he said.
“This is completely unacceptable and we are committed to taking a firm approach to help reduce incidents and make local residents feel safer. My team have plans in place to step up patrols in the town and they will also be armed with dispersal notices during the evenings to move on large groups of people.
“Next Tuesday there are also plans to have a multi-agency walk around of the areas most affected so that we can adopt a partnership approach.
“Councillors and senior leaders will be invited to take to the beat, much like the public may have seen in the Southwick estate in Sunderland earlier this week.
“We understand the affect this has on local residents and we are committed to eradicating the type of behaviour we have seen in Houghton.
“We thank everyone who has called us to report their concerns and we assure you all that we will be working together to tackle this problem head on.”
Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, said: “I know that many local people are extremely concerned about anti-social behaviour in our community, particularly in Houghton town centre.
“I have spoken with officers, whom I know are doing everything possible to tackle this problem wherever it arises, and I fully support their renewed efforts in Houghton.
“Our police officers are under massive pressure and resources are stretched, as Northumbria Police have faced higher cuts than any other force in the country.
A spokesman for Lidl said it was aware of “a small number of incidents” at its Houghton store and that it was supporting local authorities in their investigations.
“We’d encourage customers, who have any store related concerns, to bring them to the attention of our store management team so they can assist.”
Earlier this month, a safety barrier was also stolen by youths from the beer garden of the Wild Boar, in Frederick Place, onthe evening of November 9.
Police are appealing for witnesses anyone with information is asked to contact police on 101 quoting reference 1118 of 09/11/17.