SCARED residents are snapping up stab proof vests and protective clothing to shield themselves from attacks during the street light switch-off, an Essex defence company boss claims.
VestGuard, based in Tolleshunt Knights, usually deals with huge contracts for clients like the Greek police and the Afghanistan army, but has seen a sharp rise in members of the public from Chelmsford and Braintree buying its products after a spate of high-profile stabbings.
"Some members of the public are worried about walking the streets at night," said VestGuard managing director Oliver Lincoln.
"Some customers are parents worried about their teenagers who might work in a shop at night; others are taxi or bus drivers as well as security guards who work during the night.
"They feel significantly worried about the threat since the recent stabbings to go out and buy a stab vest to feel safe," added Mr Lincoln, 25, who gave up playing piano in a West End production of Billy Elliot four years ago in favour of a business career.
People also come from the Home Counties and across London to purchase VestGuard's products which are also sold around the world to armies, police forces and media teams in war zones.
In June and July the company reported a noticeable rise in Essex residents buying their products.
"In the last two months we've had about 200 people buy stab vests – that's very unusual. We mostly do between ten and 40 a month, so that's well over doubled," he said.
In many parts of Essex knife crime rose this year, with a total of 1,405 knife-related incidents in 2012-13 and 1,522 in 2013-14, an increase of 8.3 per cent.
Crimes involving knives in Chelmsford rose 9.6 per cent between March 2013 and February 2014, compared to the same period 12 months earlier, from 83 incidents to 91.
In Maldon it rose from 18 reported knife crimes to 25, but in Braintree it dropped from 63 to 57 incidents.
The biggest rise was in Southend where 295 crimes were reported, a 31 per cent rise on the 225 incidents reported in the same period 12 months earlier.
There have been a number of well-publicised stabbings in Colchester recently, including the murder of Nahid Almanea on June 17 and James Attfield on March 29.
In February a man in his 30s was attacked near a Co-op in Fivefields, Colchester, and two men in their 20s were arrested, then a Brentwood teenager was held after a stabbing outside Liquid nightclub at 3.30am in Colchester on June 20.
Mr Lincoln said: "People feel there's an increased threat, especially in the evening after midnight when the lights are switched off – people feel vulnerable already so the switch-off just makes it worse.
"It's only £180 for a basic stab vest so it's not a surprise more people want to protect themselves – it can be the difference between living and dying," he added.
Since September 1 last year, Essex County Council switched off the street lights in Chelmsford and Braintree, then later in Colchester and Brentwood in a bid to save money. MPs, councillors and campaigners have criticised the move.
An Essex County Council spokesman said: "Since the roll-out began there has been no evidence suggesting that part-night lighting has had any adverse impact on crime.
"The council has been working closely with the emergency services and responds to representations from them regarding any areas which they believe should be exempt from the scheme."