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FWD: Out-of-control Asbos a 'menace to society'

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  • Keith Armstrong
    The Government s flagship criminal justice measure, the anti-social behaviour order (Asbo), is being widely misused by police and local authorities, MPs have
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2005
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      The Government's flagship criminal justice measure, the anti-social
      behaviour order (Asbo), is being widely misused by police and local
      authorities, MPs have been warned.

      Since they were launched in April 1999, the number of Asbos granted
      by magistrates' courts has risen dramatically and now totals 4,000,
      many of them against children.

      Civil liberties groups have raised concerns that authorities are
      increasingly relying on the powers of the orders as a short-cut to
      imposing criminal punishments. The warning forms part of a report by
      the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee's investigation into anti-
      social behaviour in Britain, which will be published on Tuesday.

      An Asbo is granted as a civil power but a breach of the order is
      treated as an offence punishable by up to five years in prison. Of
      nearly 1,300 Asbo applications from local authorities in England and
      Wales between 2000 and 2004, only 13 were refused by the courts.

      In some cases Asbos are being used to tackle long-standing social
      problems, such as begging and prostitution by turning offenders into

      The wide terms of the legislation mean that a magistrate can grant an
      Asbo by being satisfied only on a balance of probabilities that the
      accused's behaviour is "likely to cause alarm, harassment or

      As a result, children risk being sent to detention centres for
      swearing or spitting in the street. In one case a child suffering
      from Tourette syndrome was banned from swearing in public.

      Groups such as the British Institute for Brain Injured Children
      (Bibic), a national charity working with young people with
      behavioural difficulties, warn that the Government's targeting
      of "families from hell" could lead to the demonising of children with
      Asperger's syndrome or other problems.

      In the first year of the Asbo only a few dozen applications were made
      to the courts. Since then, Labour has introduced new laws to
      strengthen their use while giving councils and police more money to
      fund applications. In many cases, an Asbo against a child is now
      accompanied by a naming and shaming order.

      The human rights group Liberty warns that this not only targets the
      individual but also their brothers and sisters. Shami Chakrabarti,
      the director of Liberty, says that such a measure can destroy the
      lives of innocent and often vulnerable children.

      The Children's Society, said yesterday that it was "very concerned
      about the government policy to 'name and shame' children who receive

      Liz Lovell, a policy adviser at the Society, said: "The policy is not
      only counter-productive, it puts children and young people at risk.
      We are also opposed to the proposed extension of this policy in the
      Serious Organised Crime & Police Bill. Another concern is that,
      although an Asbo is a civil order, breaching it is a criminal
      offence, the penalty for which can be imprisonment. Asbos were not
      designed with children in mind."

      In six years since the first Asbos were granted, evidence is emerging
      that they no longer have a deterrent impact on anti-social behaviour.
      Liberty has told MPs that such an "indiscriminate and excessive" use
      of the legislation is "undermining any benefit they might bring". A
      Liberty spokesman said: "We are aware of anecdotal evidence of Asbos
      being treated as a badge of honour. If this is so then what must be
      the principle purpose of Asbos, deterrence from anti-social
      behaviour, is undermined. "Displacement of aggressive youths from one
      estate to a neighbouring one does not address the cause of their

      The Home Affairs Committee report will also consider the impact of
      police powers to impose curfews on children under the age of 16 and
      dispersal orders for groups of teenagers congregating in the street.

      In its evidence to the committee, Liberty says: "While people might
      find the presence of a group of young men with hoods covering their
      faces intimidating, it does not always justify the police taking
      action. These powers are the consequence of the Government's blank-
      cheque policy on policing."

      Social-welfare charities are also concerned about the widespread
      imposition of Asbos. Research carried out by the National Consortium
      for Sheltered Housing (Erosh) for possession or eviction in sheltered
      housing during the first quarter of 2004 found that, for the first
      time, anti-social behaviour was cited as a cause for more actions
      than rent arrears.

      Erosh is concerned about incidents of early onset of dementia,
      paranoia, depression, or manic conditions, for example, which can
      lead to behaviour that many consider "anti-social" but are in reality
      evidence of health breakdowns.



      Caroline Shepherd, 27, was given an Asbo after neighbours complained
      about her wearing skimpy underwear when answering her door or using
      the garden. The Asbo also banned her from making noise, shouting and
      swearing, holding drunken parties, abusing neighbours and letting her
      friends use her garden as a lavatory. Before the ban was imposed, Ms
      Shepherd, of East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, said she had been wearing a
      new bikini for gardening. On Wednesday, Hamilton Sheriff's court was
      told Ms Shepherd had pleaded not guilty to two charges of breaching
      her Asbo.


      Kim Sutton, 23, has tried to kill herself four times by jumping off
      bridges. Ms Sutton, who suffers from a personality disorder, first
      attempted suicide in August last year when she was seen in the river
      Avon at Bath, Somerset. Three months later she was rescued from the
      same river twice in two hours. After being convicted of three public
      order offences by Bath magistrates, she was given a 12-month
      conditional discharge and a five-point Asbo for two years. It bans
      her from going into rivers, canals or open water, loitering on
      bridges, going on to railway lines, entering multi-storey car parks
      unaccompanied, or acting in a way that causes harassment or alarm.


      Brian Hagan, 62, has a pig farm in Briston, Norfolk. Last year he was
      given an Asbo after his animals repeatedly damaged crops in
      neighbouring fields. His lawyer argued that it was the wrong
      intervention to use. The human rights group Liberty said this use of
      an Asbo could set a dangerous precedent. The case was dropped in

      By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent 02 April 2005

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