CRIME: What the country really thinks

If Gina Buchanan had her way, persistent criminals would be birched, and capital punishment would return.

The 50-year-old Glaswegian former model was among 300 Britons who agreed to join the first randomly-selected sample of people to be gathered together in one place. They spent a weekend in Manchester debating the problem of crime.

Their opinions were surveyed in detail before the event and then again after they had been briefed on the issues, discussed them, and questioned politicians and experts.

This first-ever experiment in a 'deliberative' opinion survey has been designed to find out what people would really feel about an issue if they had the opportunity to think in depth about it - in contrast to snapshot polls, where people give an instant, unconsidered response to questions.

Mrs Buchanan found that in her group of 12 participants only one was strongly against the use of corporal punishment and schools and prisons. 'My parents' generation believed that if you spared the rod you spoiled the child. The level of crime today proves that.'

A life-long Conservative voter, Mrs Buchanan believes the Tories are fast losing their claim to be the party of law and order. 'I would not vote Labour, but the Conservatives need to pull their socks up.' However, along with most of the others in her randomly-selected group, Mrs Buchanan believed there was too little support for families and children. 'There are so many poor kids out there who don't get love and affection. They grow up without knowing right from wrong.'

She agreed to take part in the experiment because of her concern about 'increasing lawlessness'. Her house has been broken into three times, her garage twice, and someone attempted to steal her car. Her neighbours are considering starting a watch scheme.

The Manchester event was filmed by Granada for Channel 4, and will be shown in a two-hour programme starting at 8pm on Sunday. The Independent, which helped sponsor and organise the event, will report the detailed findings on Monday.

(Photograph omitted)