Young criminals are damaging Skipton by turning the Leeds-Liverpool Canal into a “no-go area,” say organisers of the town’s waterway festival.

Police have acted after canal boat owners seeking winter moorings began spurning Skipton after being targeted by teenage hooligans, says Pamela Clarke, who helps organise the May bank holiday festival.

Narrowboats have been cast adrift in the night, some have been vandalised and there has been a spate of thefts from the decks.

Now Skipton Police have launched a major crackdown with high-visibility patrols in a bid to restore Skipton’s reputation. Mrs Clarke, a director at Skipton’s Pennine Cruisers, which runs pleasure trips and hires out boats, said victims were often reluctant to make reports to police for fear of reprisals.

“Canal boat owners obviously talk to each other and their message is, ‘Don’t stop in Skipton, you’ll get trouble from local kids,’” said Mrs Clarke.

“It’s sad, but Skipton is getting a really bad reputation. Instead of stopping, people are passing through and it’s a big loss for the town because, if they don’t stop, they don’t spend in local shops, cafés and restaurants.

“We’re having a lot of problems with youths, between the ages of 12 and 20, walking down from the direction of Aireville Park. They’ve been jumping on and off the boats and taking life rings and flowerpots from the top of the boats.

“We’ve also had incidents where they have cast boats off in the middle of the night and let them drift into the middle of the canal.

“The average narrowboat costs an awful lot of money – around £70,000 – and we had an incident in which a boat was keyed down the side and it cost about £4,000 to repaint.

“Generally it’s youths making a nuisance of themselves and if anyone says anything to them they get a lot of back chat.”

Mrs Clarke said she was particularly worried about the damage that could be caused to the future success of the Skipton Waterway Festival, which attracts around 10,000 visitors to the town.

“We’re trying to attract as many people as possible to the town and 95 boats came to the festival last year, but the trouble we’ve been experiencing lately doesn’t help matters. I know boaters are reluctant to report matters, because they think that if the police are seen going to their boats then they might get hassle the day after.

“But I would urge people to report incidents to the police and just say they don’t want a visit. Or if they prefer, they can report it to us at Pennine Cruisers and we’ll pass the information on to police.

“We’ve got to get across to the boaters that something is being done. We’re not sitting back and ignoring the problem.”

Police Community Support Officer Gillian Seed said anti-crime strategies to combat problems at the canal had been made a top priority.

“We’ve increased the number of patrols in the area as we understand canal boat owners don’t want to moor up in Skipton and that’s having a bad effect on the town,” she said.

“The area around the swing bridge at the bottom of Aireville Park is where a lot of the trouble is taking place, so we’re having a lot more patrols around there.

“We would urge people to report anything suspicious. If there are any youths hanging around the boats, we want to know about it.”

Anyone with information can contact Skipton Police in the strictest confidence on 0845 6060 247. Alternatively call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.