Ruffians tackled by caped crusader

note: This article was written for the Times newspaper by Helen Rumbelow on the 3rd May 2003 but has since disappeared from their website, but luckily a copy has been sitting on my hard disk.

HE MAY not be Batman so much as a slightly batty man. A masked, caped hero is claimed to be at large in Tunbridge Wells, keeping the streets safe.

Other caped crusaders have carved out careers in Metropolis or Gotham City, but this mysterious figure seems to prefer the refined pleasures of the Kent spa town whose residents are more famous for writing angry letters signed "Disgusted" to newspapers.

This week the local paper received three letters of praise for the masked man. He is anonymous but "Spa-man" has a certain ring.

When a matronly woman was being harassed by youths in the Pantiles shopping centre, witnesses reported a masked man in a brown cape rushing to her rescue. A man claims that the hero swung towards him on a rope when he was faced with another group of unruly teenagers.

Finally a woman reported that she was astonished to be "tapped on the shoulder" by a man fitting the same description, who returned her purse. "He said I had dropped it when I was checking my handbag for tissues," her letter said.

The hero's actions were brought to light by letters to the Kent and Sussex Courier, but reporters managed to trace only one witness, Ellen Neville, 21, a psychotherapy student. The other correspondents gave untraceable addresses. Mary Harris, the paper's chief reporter, said: "She was adamant that what she had seen was genuine."

Miss Neville was having a drink with a friend on Easter Monday. "To my great surprise,” she wrote, "a masked man wearing a brown cape rushed past me to assist a woman who was having bother with a group of youths. He swept in, broke up the commotion and ran off. We thought it was hilarious."

Tunbridge Wells police said: "We’re always in favour of good citizenship."

Scan of article from The Times