EVER since the Environment Agency spread a proper path on top of the floodbank, our street to the south of Darlington has become a mecca for dogwalkers, writes Chris Lloyd.

They park outside Croft church, nip through the churchyard gates, pass the tomb of Lewis Carroll’s parents and then go out on to a glorious expanse of open riverbank with the peat-brown Tees running through it.

On Monday, a piece of cardboard in the shape of a bishop’s mitre was fastened over the churchyard gate with a black pen message: “Please stay at home. Car registration numbers will be reported to the police.”

On Tuesday, the car registrations of five offenders were attached to the bishop’s mitre, informing the drivers that “these will be reported to the police”. The “will” was underlined to prove it would happen.

This was when Derbyshire police used a drone to pursue people in the wilds of the Peak District who were breaking the Government guidance to not drive to take your one period of exercise.

The notice left me feeling uneasy. As Derbyshire police have found, there are concerns about the extent of the state surveillance imposed upon us.

Fearing foreigners and exhibiting unkindness to strangers are signs of a society breaking down at a time when it should all be pulling together.

And vigilantism – the summary imposition of ‘justice’ by those without authority – is nearly always dangerous: one of those named-and-shamed drivers could have been an old person who’d lived all their lives on the estate up the hill and who wouldn’t have been able to make it home after their walk.

Hoping to find a kindred spirit, I shouted to a neighbour. He shouted back that the sign was spot on. He didn’t want other people rubbing their pox-riddled hands on the kissing gate that his family was using on a daily basis.

In these destabilising times, he was prepared to accept anything that kept the contagion away. I accepted that, as usual, I was wrong.

But as there was already one secret agent in the street, I decided to join the spy by spying on the spy’s sign.

On just my second sign-watch patrol, I noted that within hours the bottom of the sign, with the car numbers on, had been ripped off. Then, next morning, with quiet satisfaction, I was able to record that the whole bishop’s mitre had gone. It confirmed to me that there were other, silent, right-thinkers about.

But, shouted my neighbour, the number of cars had decreased so the sign had clearly had the desired effect.

There were, though, still some parkers and walkers. On Wednesday afternoon’s patrol, I discovered outside the church gate, where the dogwalkers park, a car glovebox of litter. Still shop fresh, it had been tossed out onto my street.

There was an empty packet of 20 Lambert & Butler cigarettes, a bright red bag of tangy tomato crisps, a torn chunky Kit Kat wrapper and a ripped Lindt Lindor chocolate bar sleeve.

So let’s name and shame this appalling individual: they’re a smoker (shouldn’t be too hard to find) who likes cheap crisps and big blocks of biscuit but has a surprisingly sophisticated streak in chocolate choice.

Oh, and they’re spreading disease…