First Anti-Social orders are granted

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The Independent Online
CIVIL LIBERTY groups reacted angrily yesterday after two teenagers became the first juveniles in Britain to be subjected to Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.

In a case which made legal history, a Liverpool magistrate granted orders against the 17-year-olds under laws designed to tackle so-called "neighbours from hell".

The pair now face a maximum of five years' imprisonment if they are caught spitting, urinating, causing criminal damage or intimidating residents or council employees.

The orders, which are to last for up to two years, also specifically exclude them from entering six streets near where they live. Neither has a criminal record.

The court was shown two video-tapes yesterday of the pair brandishing a claw hammer, climbing on roofs, throwing missiles, spitting and jumping on an abandoned car.

The legal action, led by Liverpool's pioneering anti-social behaviour unit, has been keenly watched by other authorities and the result of the test case may lead to a flood of applications for similar orders.

But Liberty, the civil rights organisation, said the orders made a criminal offence out of "quite breathtaking triviality" and said they were an infringement of human rights. The director of Liberty, John Wadham, said that a situation where a person caught spitting could go to prison for five years while another, not subject to an order but doing exactly the same thing, could not, "made no sense at all".

The Howard League, which campaigns for reform of the criminal justice system, said it was concerned that the local authority needed only satisfy a "lower civil" test of proof - on the balance of probabilities - to have the orders imposed.

The assistant director of the group, Fran Russell, said that because the magistrate was acting in a civil capacity hearsay evidence, not admissible in a criminal court, could be used to grant the order.

She said civil court rules meant the orders could be made in the absence of the alleged offender. Children as young as 10 could become the subject to the order and if then found to be in breach, could be sentenced by a criminal court. "This makes a criminal offence out of acts which aren't necessarily criminal in themselves," Ms Russell said. "Juveniles will have criminal records and their lives blighted by this."

David Woods, representing the 17-year-olds, conceded that the new video evidence presented yesterday - which was filmed on 16 and 17 August, just hours after the council had mediated with one of them - showed that his clients had acted in an anti-social way, an accusation they had previously denied.

Mr Woods denied, however, that his clients had participated in drug- taking or acts of criminal damage.

The magistrate, David Tapp, told the two teenagers that everybody had the right to enjoy a quiet life and "not be harassed and distressed by others' behaviour".

Imposing the order, Mr Tapp warned them: "If you cannot allow people to live their lives in peace and you carry on with this behaviour, you are likely to come back before the court and you could face five years in prison."