Punt Wars: Sabotage, piracy and assault

Freshers, don’t be fooled by the sweet charms of touts – punt companies are often violent, abusive and in fierce competition with each other

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In total, 21 punt-esque police investigations have been launched into alleged disorder on the River Cam since 2011.

The lucrative trade has seen street battles, theft, verbal and physical assault as punt touts compete for customers.

Theft, including the unauthorised taking of conveyance, remains the most common offence. Police recorded 15 instances from 2011-2014, including one incident where a hacksaw was used to free a punt from its moorings, and another where offenders cut through the chain and lock of two secured punts and stole them.

The period 2007-2010 was especially violent. Police investigated 151 punt-related crimes, including numerous acts of vandalism and fights between rival tours. More serious incidents include one involving a knife and another in which a woman broke her hip when she was caught up in a brawl between touts.

Not so idyllic…

Common ‘attacks’ include stink bombs thrown off bridges to render boats inoperable, washing up liquid squirted to make it too slippery for punters to stand and bolt-cutters to snap mooring chains.

Though the means may seem amusing, the consequences are far from it. Back in 2010, ‘The Punting Company’ reported damage in excess of £10,000 following a spat of incidents.

The punt industry is worth around £2.5 million and caters to over six million people who visit the river each year.

Other recent incidents include boats being weighted down with bricks, cut in two with an electric saw, and on one occasion a cup of tea was thrown in the face of a rival tout.

Students and locals have long bemoaned the aggressive, and often intimidating, hassling techniques adopted by touts. One King’s fresher told the Tab how he’d already noticed tensions on open days:

“Back in June, Cambridge was heaving with prospective students and you could sense some tension around Magdalene Bridge.

“I haven’t been in Cambridge long, but I’ve already heard swearing and seen jostling on the river. Nothing serious, but it’s still quite concerning.”

Not this time: Cambridge police are stepping up efforts to deal with river crime

Back in 2011, the Cam Conservators discovered 40 illegal Cambridge punting companies, targeting vulnerable and unknowing tourists. The consequence was legislation introduced in April 2012 banning illegal punting companies.

More recently, police officers have been issued ‘stab’ vests in the wake of rising tensions, as they step up efforts to enforce river law.

Have you had any negative experiences with punting companies? Let us know in the comments below.