Police pressed in bad-behaviour battle

Police forces in Wales will come under greater Government pressure to use a raft of anti-social behaviour legislation to stamp out street yobs and silence noisy neighbours. Home Secretary David Blunkett and Prime Minister Tony Blair will tomorrow herald a massive increase in Anti-Social Behaviour Orders but demand forces in England and Wales go further still. The latest drive against anti-social behaviour will be aimed at closing the gap between some local authorities and police forces which use Asbos heavily and those still to be convinced of their benefit as a weapon against street thugs and neighbourhood nuisances. The Government's �One Year On� report is expected to show a steep rise in the use of Asbos, the new dispersal orders, acceptable behaviour contracts and fixed penalty notices.

The Home Office is also expected to announce measures used in criminal trials to protect victims and witnesses from intimidation are to be extended to anti-social behaviour cases in the civil courts, such as applications for Asbos. It will include screening to hide witnesses from the defendant, the provision of evidence by live link or in private and video-recorded testimony. The number of fast-track criminal courts dedicated to trying anti-social behaviour cases in England and Wales will also increase from 12 to 40. But the crackdown comes less than a week after senior Welsh police officer Terry Grange warned of the danger of over-using Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. The Dyfed-Powys Chief Constable said youngsters were too often being targeted with Asbos for little more than being noisy, boisterous and young. Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said, �I don't agree with him and nor do most senior police officers. �No one is labelling young people in Wales as yobs; it is a small minority but they are a persistent minority and for older people they can be very intimidating.� Other police officers have complained that Asbos are simply too difficult to get � draining man hours by gathering the necessary evidence to pursue a case to magistrates' court. On average it takes nine months for an Asbo to be ordered and more than a third are breached.

The Asbo system was introduced in England and Wales in 1999 but in the 12 months to September 2003, Home Office figures showed a mixed picture of success. In the first four years in Wales 58% of the 19 Asbos ordered were breached while in England 34% of the 836 Asbos ordered were breached. Those breaching orders can be bought back to court and face a maximum of five years in prison but the Home Office figures do not show how many defiant louts are charged.

Kirsty Buchanan
27 October 2004

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