Mail readers have called for a Hartlepool leisure centre to return to segregated changing rooms after a town man was caught stealing a child’s underwear.
We reported yesterday how warped Christopher Wallace, 33, was hauled before town magistrates for taking an eight-year-old girl’s knickers from Mill House Leisure Centre while she went to shower with her mum.
Many readers commented on the story on the Mail’s website and Facebook page and called for separate sex changing rooms to be re-instated at the leisure centre on Raby Rood, to prevent similar crimes.
Mill House Leisure Centre’s old male and female changing rooms were replaced in 2010 as part of a £1m refurbishment in favour of a modern single unisex ‘changing village’.
Hartlepool Borough Council, which runs the centre, says it is more flexible and included family changing and changing for people with disabilities.
But Joanne Guttridge said on the Mail’s Facebook page: “I still can’t understand why the mill house changing rooms are mixed!”
I went back to Mill House a few years ago after many years and was shocked at the set up. Didn’t feel comfortable at all.Hamid Khaliq
Others agreed and also questioned the arrangement including Denise Dack who said: “They should of kept changing areas separate.”
Janet Kinsella said: “They should never have made them communal showers it encourages perverts shocking knocks you sick just shows you don’t no whos next to you spoils it for others what with the holidays about to start x”
Hamid Khaliq said: “I went back to Mill House a few years ago after many years and was shocked at the set up. Didn’t feel comfortable at all.”
Stephanie Ellen Wallace added: “I agree too it’s stupid,” while Nicola Bailey commented: “Totally agree with changing rooms like they should of just added a few family rooms rather than totally combining them x”.
Mum Samantha Stobbs also felt strongly about the issue.
She posted: “I have a 5 year old daughter after one visit to the communal change room I vowed I’d never take her again listening to teenage boys shouting and swearing, I pay for lessons instead now!”
“Mill house needs to sort this out!”
But website user victormeldrew2 said: “The reason that nearly all new centres use changing villages is so that CCTV can be installed to monitor aisles, as fitted in Mill House, it also reduces the need for male and female staff to monitor two different areas instead of one person who can cover the single change room.”
A council spokeman said: “The changing area at Mill House Leisure Centre was remodelled in 2010 to create a changing village and we believe this has created greater flexibility to accommodate varying mixes of male and female users, including family changing and changing for people with disabilities.
“The previous changing areas – which were regularly vandalised – had been criticised by many users and vandalism levels have dropped significantly since the introduction of the new facilities.
“The changing village - which meets the standards required by Sport England and the Amateur Swimming Association - also offers flexibility to allow staff of either sex to supervise, clean and maintain the area.
“All staff at Mill House Leisure Centre have the necessary safeguarding training and CCTV cameras cover most public areas and we were able to use footage from these when the incident was reported to us.
“The changing village concept is now common practice across the UK.”
Wallace, of Whinchat Close, Hartlepool, was sentenced to a two-year community order and must comply with a sex offender treatment programme.