Straw sets agenda for reclaiming the streets

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The Independent Online

Home Affairs Correspondent

Police should make more effort to clear the streets of aggressive car windscreen "squeegee merchants", graffiti artists, beggars, drunks, and addicts, said Jack Straw, shadow Home Secretary, yesterday.

In a speech distancing himself further from the penal reform agenda and challenging Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, on his own territory, Mr Straw said: "We have literally to reclaim the streets for the law- abiding public citizen; make street life everywhere an innocent pleasure again."

As both parties compete for the law-and-order vote, Mr Straw's tough- talking speech was seen yesterday as a ploy to undermine the Government's "good news on crime" campaign. With the latest recorded crime figures expected to show another drop - a consistent fall over the last two-and- a-half years - Mr Howard is touring the country this week, hoping to persuade the public that government policies are working.

He is also planning a new crime prevention agency, partly funded by the private sector, to work alongside police in an attempt to improve prevention. "I can't guarantee every single set of crime figures will fall, but I do believe we are seeing a turning point in the battle," he said yesterday.

By contrast, Mr Straw voiced concern about "brutalised" street scenes and fear of crime "on a huge scale". A spokesman at his office stressed yesterday that Mr Straw's latest speech was not about banning certain activities or lifestyles, but to tackle specific problems in specific areas in conjunction with local people, councils, social services, and others agencies.

Mr Straw said: "Graffiti, a much neglected crime in my book `adorns' much street furniture. Even where the graffiti is not comprehensible, not racialist in message, it is often violent and uncontrolled in its visual image and correctly gives the impression of a lack of order on the streets.

"Then there are the obstacles faced by pedestrians and motorists in going about their daily business. The winos and addicts whose aggressive begging affronts and sometimes threatens decent compassionate citizens and the `squeegee merchants' who wait at large road junctions to force on reticent motorists their windscreen cleaning service."

Labour's key law-and-order policy, which Mr Straw was promoting yesterday - his "quiet life" document which proposes to deal with criminal "neighbours from hell" - was condemned by a leading barrister as "Draconian, misconceived and unnecessary".

Simon Farrell, who examined the policy for Liberty, the civil rights group, warns that it breaches human rights legislation. He says that existing law, if properly applied, is sufficient to deal with problem families who cause misery for their neighbours, rather than introducing Labour's "community safety order" with its inherent difficulties of mixing civil and criminal law.