Why urban explorers are posing a problem in the south-west

Out in the big wide world, there is a new hobby called Urban Exploring. I’d never heard of it (also known as urbex) until this week. It is, according to Wikipedia, the exploration of manmade structures, usually abandoned ruins or hidden components of the manmade environment. Photography and historical interest/documentation are heavily featured in the hobby and it sometimes involves trespassing onto private property. It almost sounds like historical research until the trespassing part.

Here’s an example of what is happening in Cornwall, at St Lawrence’s Hospital, Bodmin, and there are quite a few comments, including one which rightly says empty buildings tell us nothing much of the vibrancy of life lived.

It sounds harmless enough as hobbies go, but is it really?

A lot of the buildings (which are not damaged but are photographed) are old asylums, bunkers, industrial or military structures.

But not all.

Some are private housing/property with no public interest element. For many people who own such properties, it causes severe anxiety and emotional trauma. Imagine if you had an empty property (maybe a parent had gone to a care home or you were trying to sell) and day in, day out people were trespassing on the property/land taking photos to document on social media. How would you feel? Violated,  perhaps. Certainly insecure and irritated.

We were contacted by one family who have been on the receiving end of urbex visits, who said:

It came from America originally and has been growing here for a while. There’s literally thousands of them, and that’s just in the south west!

They seem mostly fascinated with decay. Staircases, windows, toilets, and swimming pools they flock to. It’s been like a zombie apocalypse for the last two months; at its peak I think we had 10 groups in 10 days.

Apparently, the more ‘professional’ urbexers pay scout parties to ‘open a place up’ so that they can just literally walk into a place without breaking and entering as they don’t want a criminal record. We have found evidence of this as every time one of them manages to get into the property, they make sure to leave windows unlatched everywhere, of course ensuring that the next lot can get in. They claim outwardly on social media to ‘never share locations’ but they exchange locations via private messaging.

Many people affected describe what is happening as trespassing. There is a petition to that effect here started by another family, which says:

My family and I have had enough. We have suffered at the hands of so called ‘urban explorers’ for too long and feel powerless. They have raided our currently un-inhabited, family home countless times, trespassing over our and neighbouring land. They have forced entry, broken windows and caused damage. They step over neighbouring farmers’ electric fencing, walking through stocked fields. They walk through fields with lambing ewes in. They came, and come, right in the middle of a pandemic putting us, and more worryingly, our elderly, vulnerable Mum at unnecessary risk. They hide in bushes and watch for opportunities. They are full of self-justification and violate, smug in the knowledge that trespassing is a ‘civil matter’ and that they’re doing ‘nothing wrong’. 

Our situation, in regard to the house and estate is a tricky one, but we shouldn’t be the ones having to explain ourselves.  Let’s just say that for the moment, our hands are tied. 

We have done everything within our power to stop them. We are patrolling as much as possible. We’ve reported everything to the police. We’ve erected countless ‘Private’ and ‘No Trespassing’ signs around the perimeter of the estate. We’ve secured windows and boarded up weak spots. We’ve got countless images and videos on CCTV. We have names, car registrations and addresses. We have found thousands of internet images and videos uploaded on the various pages on the web, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. We have reported them all to the website owners but have had no support whatsoever. We have talked with the ‘explorers’ and asked them to help us, asking them to remove the images.

Yet still they come.

The house sits surrounded by its own land and is over 1/2 a mile from a public highway. The ‘explorers’ exchange locations with each other using private messaging, though on the public forums they claim to ‘never share locations’. They use Google maps to home in.

We are exhausted emotionally and physically. Why should we have to even have to lock the door? It seems they feel it’s their right to be there rifling through all our stuff and documenting it all via photography. If they can get in without forcing entry (which amazingly most have) then they claim to have not done anything wrong.

Here’s a quote which reflects the level of care and attitude these people have with regards to the law and the trauma they inflict on people. Taken from the 28DaysLater website from an explorer talking to the owner/representative of a property: ‘Selfish purpose? How am I being selfish? I am not affecting anyone. I have not damaged the property or moved anything all I have done is take pictures.
I haven’t done anything wrong, what I am doing is perfectly legal. I am not damaging property and I am respecting the building and its land…everyone enjoys doing different things, as long as I am not damaging property then I don’t see the issue in it.’

It is only a matter of time before more serious crimes are committed. On threads I have been reading there has been burglary, graffiti, ransacking and at worst, arson. 

What we are asking for is a change in the law. A change that allows police officers to administer on-the-spot fixed penalties for trespassing. Currently, obtaining effective evidence for us to be able to take them to court is tricky and time / money consuming. Surely, with fines being given out it will make these people think twice. Currently it’s like a free day out in the countryside with the added bonus of an adrenaline rush or two, and then of course the ego boosting ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ that comes with social media.

Please help. Every single signature counts. We will take this all the way.

Here is the petition link again.

 

 

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