Sex in the churchyard, drug-dealing, violence and urinating in the streets are making life a misery for Dorchester town centre residents.

Many claim a lack of police officers and a willingness for the district council to grant late night licences mean the problems are not being tackled.

Most blame individuals for their own anti-social behaviour but say something has to be done to stop people drinking and disturbing others until the early hours.

Publicans and bar owners say they already employ door staff and CCTV and have a zero tolerance policy to drug taking and excessive drinking. They say almost all the problems take place away from their businesses, and are often caused by people who have not been drinking in the town centre, but drink, or take drugs at home, and then come out.

The district council say their investigations have found no problems with the way town centre licensed premises are run and residents complaints about noise have not been found to be at nuisance level.

One bar manager, who declined to be named, told Monday night’s town council meeting how she had to barricade the building after refusing entry to a group of men who turned up late, already drunk. Police were called as the group smashed glasses and tried to gain entry – but officers were unable to respond until the incident was over.

Several councillors claimed a lack of police on the streets had made the situation worse – one, Cllr Gerald Duke, suggested exploring ways of paying locally for additional officers, as many universities already do to keep their campuses secure.

Residents spoke of nights of ruined sleep, being awoken by fighting and shouting in the early hours; people openly urinating in the streets as people walked by, and in shop door ways; of vomit, sexual activity and broken windows.

Around 200 have signed a petition calling for a solution and an end to late night licences – with more than 1,000 signing an online petition calling for the county town’s late night economy to be protected.

Mayor David Taylor said that talks had already been with the police and others to look at ways of finding solutions. He said he was confident that the situation could be improved and compromises found.

Former BID chairman and owner of the Horse with the Red Umbrella, John Fiori, said he had suffered many vandal attacks and frequently had to clean urine and vomit from outside his cafe.

Simon Levin, chair of the Dorchester Heritage Quarter Residents Association, said people living in the town centre had a right to safety for themselves and their property. He said there seemed to be a denial from all authorities that the problems were happening.

“If you don’t live here you won’t see the blood and fighting, rape, human excrement, needles, vomit and drug dealing as well as threatening behaviour,” he said.

Cllr Molly Rennie said the district council was aware of the complaints and environmental health officers often monitored the situation at weekends, sometimes accompanied by councillors.

She said the problem was that the current legislation did allow late-night opening and that the problems were being caused by people in the street, not in licensed premises, which were generally well run.

“The blame is on people who are disrespectful in our town, to our publicans, to people who live in the town…it is these people who are behaving in an anti-social way. They have no respect. We cannot blame licensees.”

Like others, she said that although it was individuals who caused problems, a lack of policing, caused by budget cuts, had not helped the situation.

“The main issue concerns a lack of police in our town…we always used to have Friday and Saturday patrols, but the cuts have been astronomical. If we want something we are going to have to pay for it. We can’t close down pubs and bars or our town will be dead.”

Said Cllr Stella Jones: “We can’t change the licensing laws but we can ask the police to attend. It would only take a few arrests to get the message across…this is a lovely town and we don’t want it ruined.”

The Police and Crime Commissioner, Martyn Underhill, warned last year that police officers were now so stretched he could not guarantee keeping people safe in all circumstances.

He is currently campaigning for an above average increase in the police budget with a series of public consultations, including one due to take place this Thursday, January 10th, between noon and 2pm at Tesco, Dorchester.