ON the evening of June 22, 1997, 22-year-old music student Ryan McEwen King was sexually assaulted and murdered as she walked across The Racecourse on her way home from a pub.
In the panic that ensued over the following days, and as police frantically hunted her killer, students were warned not to walk across the park, in Northampton, alone.
According to Chief Inspector Fay Tennet, of Northamptonshire Police, people have long memories when it comes to bad news. Almost 15 years on, the park’s reputation remains stained, almost indelibly so, in many people’s minds. However, according to those who know the area best, that image is not fair.
Asked if she thinks people have an unfairly negative view of the park, Chief Insp Tennet is in no doubt.
She said: “Absolutely. In some ways it is no different to anywhere else around, people just have to keep themselves safe. I think a lot of the time people think it is a place that is unsafe, that is not family friendly and generally not a good place to be. In reality that is not the case.
“I am not saying it is some little haven in the centre of the town but over the last 12 months we have got about five reports of anti-social behaviour a month.”
Chief Insp Tennet said that over the past four weeks there had been several robberies in the town and yet none at the Racecourse. After looking through the crime statistics for the park since January 2008, she said the maximum number of robberies recorded in any month in The Racecourse was four.
Sean Silver, a Friend of The Racecourse, who has worked to improve the park, added: “It is a really, really small number of people that go and drink and cause problems. The number of people who use it in what you might call a wholesome way far outweighs them.”
Work to get people to use the park continues. New playgrounds have been paid for, more events are being put on during the summer months and, after the loss of the Balloon Festival, every effort is now being made to ensure the annual Umbrella Festival becomes Northampton’s next ‘community festival’.
Mr Silver says the park also has an impressive number of ‘friends’, numbering almost 600, including pubs and businesses around The Racecourse, such as The University of Northampton.
Plans, currently lacking financial backing, have been discussed to redevelop the pavilion.
Chief Insp Tennet says The Racecourse is already a safe place to be, but hopes as more people use it, the bad memories will start to fade away.
She said: “The fact that more people are using it makes it a safer place. So attracting more people to The Racecourse builds a momentum and makes it even safer. People still remember things that have happened years and years and years ago. People have long memories but the reality and the experience is quite different.”