PATROLS by community volunteers to combat tackle anti-social behaviour along the Basingstoke canal towpath in Woking started this week.

Canal Watch was launched on Monday by Surrey Police in collaboration with Woking Borough Council, Neighbourhood Watch, Basingstoke Canal Authority and the Basingstoke Canal Society.

The initiative is the first of its kind in the south of England and follows a number of sexual exposure offences and suspicious incidents along the towpath over the past 18 months.

Volunteers on patrol will be wearing highly visible marked tabards and will patrol during the week to make sure those using the towpath feel as safe as possible.

Inspector Dave Bentley, the Woking borough commander, said: “Everybody should feel safe while out and about in Woking and these incidents are a serious concern to us and to the local community. We have also released a number of appeals for information on social media and to local media outlets, which have resulted in some important information coming to light.

“We are working hard to identify the suspects who are committing these offences and we are hopeful that the launch of Canal Watch will not only deter the suspects from re-offending, but also help us to identify them.

“We are really pleased to be partnering with Woking Borough Council, Neighbourhood Watch, Basingstoke Canal Authority and the Basingstoke Canal Society and would like to thank all of the volunteers for their time and effort in helping make Woking a safer place to live and be in.”

Woking resident Ian Moore is one of the volunteers and said: “I’ve been involved with helping to maintain and look after the canal, and as a long-time member of the Canal Society I'm delighted to be involved in this initiative.

“The canal corridor has, especially over the past year, become a welcoming environment for many people to walk, cycle and be with nature on. This brilliant collaborative effort by the community, will help to ensure that the canal remains this way for all to enjoy.”

Temporary Sergeant Ed Lyons, who is heading Canal Watch for Surrey Police, said the launch, from an information stand, was very successful.

“I want to thank the people of Woking for helping to set this up. If anyone wants to get involved, please contact us through our website,” he said.

Camilla Edmiston, Woking Borough Council’s community safety manager, added: “We’re all aware of how important our outdoor spaces are and during the pandemic the canal towpaths have become much busier.

“We want people to feel safe and by working together, we can maintain people’s confidence and enjoyment of this popular attraction.”

The volunteers will be in contact with Surrey Police but cannot field reports of any suspicious incidents.

These should be made by calling 101, visiting or calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.