Howard acts to curb video nasties: Doubt cast on credibility of report endorsed by psychologists that links child crime to violent films

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL HOWARD, the Home Secretary, will meet the film censors to press them to tighten curbs on children's access to video nasties, but will reject proposals for new legislation to ban 'ultra violence'.

Yesterday's development came as the credibility of a report signed by 25 of Britain's leading child psychologists which linked videos with child crime was questioned after it emerged it was written to help to outlaw violent films.

Mr Howard is resisting an amendment sponsored by David Alton, the Liberal Democrat MP for Mossley Hill, to the current Criminal Justice Bill. It has been signed by 220 MPs, including 80 Tories, and would deny adults access to videos judged potentially harmful to children. But the Home Secretary will hold early talks with the British Board of Film Classification on ways in which more videos could be banned, reclassified or expurgated to keep more children from viewing violent material in homes.

Mr Howard pointed out yesterday that most households did not have children.

The publication on Thursday of the paper supported by a group of eminent child behaviourists was heralded as a significant development in the debate over whether acts of violence in videos corrupt and influence youngsters. The first of its kind, it included experts saying they had been 'nave' to deny a link and had 'under-estimated' the extent to which sadist imagery would pervade the home.

However, it emerged yesterday that the author, Professor Elizabeth Newson, head of the child development unit at Nottingham University, wrote the report at Mr Alton's suggestion to persuade MPs to support his amendment, due to be debated in the Commons on 12 April. The paper assessed existing research and no fresh material was used.

Mr Alton and Professor Newson want a new banned classification - Unsuitable for Home Consumption - for videos considered to contain 'gratuitous violence'.

A leading psychologist yesterday strongly criticised the report as unscientific. Professor John Morton, a director at the Medical Research Council, said: 'It is a commissioned piece by David Alton. Academically it's just an opinion - a piece of polemic from a particular point of view.'

The paper, which Mr Alton sent to Mr Howard and the Department of National Heritage, has been available to MPs for two weeks. It calls for tighter laws surrounding the supply of violent films. While it does not clarify the link between violence and videos, Professor Newson said yesterday: 'We are saying that there is an immense amount of evidence which shows there is a link between child behaviour - including violence - and the material they watch (on video).'

She said: 'You can go on researching for ever and put off the moment of actually doing something. I thought there was now enough evidence. I felt it was important that this amendment should go through.'

Mr Howard said yesterday he was urgently considering moves to tighten laws over the supply of horror films to youngsters. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'We already have a category of videos unsuitable for home viewing. The British Board for Film Classification can refuse to classify them. Then it is an offence to sell them. Under the Bill we are tightening up the law to enable prosecutions to be brought more easily so we can make the existing law more effective.

'To ban altogether a video which may be inappropriate for viewing by children when most of the households in this country do not contain children would be an extreme step.'

However, Mr Alton said: 'The irony is that the Government have made a botch of the Bill and have been out of step with public opinion. Here was a chance for them to seize the initiative where there is widespread concern, political and academic. They gave the game away in their official response when they talked about the profits of the video industry.'

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