Terence Cassidy tries to hold back two mongrel dogs as he opens the door to his home. Tall, gangly and wearing a shell suit, the 17-year-old skinhead invites me into the living room, where his mother, Valerie Penn, is laid on a bed. Her arms and legs are heavily tattooed and she is wearing a clingy T-shirt that doesn’t cover her bulging belly. A self-confessed drug-addict, she is surrounded by grandchildren in their underwear, prancing around her. It seems like the entire family is crammed into the room.
At the age of 14, Terence was issued an ASBO by Salford Council after being accused of committing 68 offences, such as stealing cars, throwing bricks and dead birds at windows, setting off fireworks, riding a motorcycle, and threatening and verbally abusing a neighbour. ASBOs are civil orders imposed for two to five years and including bans on causing harassment, alarm or distress, exclusion from particular places and restrictions on mixing with other named individuals.
The media cannot normally identify youths with ASBOs but in Terence’s case, the press was allowed to reveal his identity. His mother keeps all the newspaper cuttings of Terence’s ASBO, alongside her collection of photos of her son’s six-week old baby; recording the two notable moments in this teenager’s life to date.
“I even laminated the articles to go back and show him when he’s a lot older and wiser,” says Mrs Penn, 40. “He’s never done anything for me to be proud of him. He comes across as a bad boy because of the ASBO, whereas it’s all an act. He’s proper shy.”
Asked whether he is proud of his ASBO Terence says “No”. As for the publicity, he says it made his problems worse. “When I walk around people still say, ‘There’s that lad from the paper.’ It’s made the whole community reject me and I don’t like that.”
His mother says that the episode left him fearing for his safety. “During the ASBO he slept with a machete. The ASBO made him ill and paranoid. He still thinks everybody’s against him and won’t go out alone.”
Outside on the streets of Little Hulton in Salford, I approached a group of hooded boys outside a shop, explaining that I was looking for teenagers who had been issued ASBOs. Three of them grinned and lifted their tracksuit trouser legs to proudly reveal their ASBO tags, electronic devices that fit around the ankle to monitor the whereabouts of people for the police. All three youths wore the stereotypical uniform: hoods, caps, tracksuits and trainers. Although individually they would not admit to seeing their tags as a ‘badge of honour’, the boys happily boasted about their ASBO status as a group.
Salford Council’s Principal Public Relations Officer, John Carberry, says the naming of offenders acts as a significant deterrent. “The benefits of the publicity far outweigh the negatives,” he says. “The media have a duty as the voice of the community to allow justice to be seen to be done. We need to demonstrate that the council takes action on behalf of citizens. It’s working because 45% of people with ASBOs had a jolt to stop them getting involved in crime.”
Inspector Andy Sutcliffe, of Greater Manchester Police’s Salford West Division, explains that youths who thought that ASBOs gave them a higher status among their peers were likely to show off in any case. From his experience, most youngsters do not want to be given an ASBO because it stops them going to specific places, socializing with certain people and imposes a curfew.
Inspector Sutcliffe and Neal Keeling, Salford reporter at the Manchester Evening News, agree that ASBOs are not the only solution to combat anti social behaviour. They say it is the duty of the press to inform communities about local ASBO cases, but that news organisations could help in other ways. “The media could positively encourage investment into deprived areas, like Salford, to help regeneration,” says Inspector Sutcliffe.
Keeling justifies the reporting of ASBOs and says: “I don’t have any qualms about it. Before they get to the ASBO stage, the police will have cautioned them. There will have been several attempts to try to tame a person’s behaviour before issuing an ASBO. If they haven’t listened or their parents haven’t got a grip of them, then tough.” The reporter contends that media coverage is “part of the sentence” and that the Government “branded” people through their legislation on ASBOs.
Mike Jempson, the Director of The MediaWise Trust, a journalism ethics charity, has very different views. Press coverage, he argues, demonises children by labelling young offenders with nicknames such as ‘balaclava boy’. “It breaches its purpose by generating anxiety amongst society and giving some children notoriety,” he says. “The police didn’t think ASBOs through.”
But Jempson’s arguments would have been lost on Terence, who has other things on his mind. When I left his house, he asked me for a lift to the hospital where his baby son, also named Terence Cassidy, was lying gravely ill in hospital with an unusual brain disorder. Later we stood by the baby’s cot with his girlfriend. As I looked at little Terence, I wondered whether he would have an ASBO one day, particularly as he would grow up on the same housing estate as his father; but that will never be the case. Sadly, he died four weeks later.
(Sara Pepper is an MA Journalism student at The University of Salford)