CRIME: What the country really thinks

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'I AM appalled at the way teachers are stopped from controlling children in school. They're not even allowed to give a child a cuddle now. I think it's all wrong.'

That was the starting point for Barbara Hartley, 63, from Winchester, when she was first asked how she would tackle crime.

Mrs Hartley, together with 299 others, agreed to take part in a revolutionary new approach to finding out what the public really thinks about crime - not a one-off 'snapshot' opinion poll, but a way of discovering what people's opinions are after they have been given a chance to discuss and consider their views.

The Independent and Channel 4 brought together a representative sample of people from all over the country and asked them detailed questions about crime.

The participants were then taken to Manchester for a weekend to deliberate the issues, and to meet experts and politicians. At the end of the weekend, they were asked once more for their views.

A television programme about the event, made by Granada for Channel 4, will be shown on Sunday night at 8pm. The results of this unique experiment in public opinion research will be published in full in next Monday's Independent. The event is being closely monitored by opinion researchers, who believe it may tackle the weaknesses of conventional polls.

The most important feature of the event, however, was not the statistics, it was the extraordinary spectacle of bringing together a thoroughly representative group of Britons and asking them to talk to each other to try to solve the problem of crime.

Mrs Hartley agreed to come because she felt, like many other participants, that the problem of crime started at home, with poor parenting. 'When my grandchildren come to my house they know there are house rules. I still remember the things my father taught me.'

'A lot of what children do is what they're taught at home - if they're not taught a good example, then it just carries on.'

Much of what she heard during the weekend, from other participants and from expert panellists, confirmed her view. But it also helped clarify issues for her: 'When I think of what it's costing the country to keep these people in prison, that money could be used to provide nursery education.'

Above all, though, she was stimulated by the opportunity to talk in small groups with the kind of people she might never normally meet. 'You got to hear from ordinary citizens. When people see ordinary people discussing things, talking about their own experience, that will have an impact. I would like to think it will make the politicians listen.'

(Photograph omitted)