Curfew nation: summer purge on yobs

Police target gangs with countrywide dispersal zones
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The Independent Online

Thousands of streets across the country will become no-go zones for teenage yobs and other troublemakers as part of a massive summer clampdown by police against anti-social behaviour.

Thousands of streets across the country will become no-go zones for teenage yobs and other troublemakers as part of a massive summer clampdown by police against anti-social behaviour.

More than 100 special zones have been mapped out as part of a zero-tolerance crackdown against drug-taking, underage drinking and alcohol-related violence in cities throughout England. In some areas curfews will be imposed, allowing police to clear groups of youths from the street after 9pm.

An investigation by The Independent on Sunday can reveal that police are rushing to apply for special licences, which ban troublemakers from specific areas with the threat of fines of £2,500 or a prison sentence for anyone breaking the curfew.

The clampdown follows a drive against lawlessness and crime by the Government to protect neighbourhoods from being terrorised and intimidated by small numbers of out-of-control troublemakers.

A third of these "dispersal areas" will be in London, with anyone causing a nuisance barred from the heart of the capital, including parts of Soho and Oxford Street. The schemes are also being introduced in Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Bristol.

Curfew zones are designated with the agreement of a chief constable and local authority. Dispersal notices within these designated zones can be imposed for a period of up to 24 hours. Anyone who has been banned from a zone and who breaches the order faces a fine of up to £2,500 and a jail sentence.

Some big cities have already applied for more than one order. Bristol will have 10 zones in place this summer and Liverpool more than 20.

The anti-yob blitz has been prompted by a wave of violent incidents involving teenage gangs including the "happy slapping" craze, where teenagers attack their victim and film the assault on a mobile phone. The latest of these attacks occurred last week when yobs with an air rifle fired on a 17-year-old girl.

Last week ministers unveiled their blueprint to curb violent crime and disorder. This included banning drunken youths from pubs and bars for up to two years, closing down pubs and shops caught selling alcohol to children and new penalties on the use and sales of knives and guns.

It is understood ministers are also planning a u-turn on teenage-friendly proposals to provide more leisure opportunities and outlets where they can socialise in the evenings.

The youth Green Paper, which will be published later this year, is being radically reworded so that it reflects the Government's tough stance on yob-related behaviour and emphasises the need for respect among young people.

Other measures endorsed by ministers include a ban by the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent on youths wearing hooded tops. The Home Office has also indicated that it will increase the use of uniforms for people on community service.

Despite research showing that crime levels are falling in Britain, violent crime has increased and there is a widespread fear among the public of becoming a victim of crime.

But reform groups last night warned that the new "anti-yobbery" measures, including dispersal orders, are unworkable and draconian and will lead to the jailing of increasing numbers of young people.

Rob Allen, a member of the Youth Justice Board, said that dispersal orders were not a solution.

"All you end up doing is displacing the problem," said Mr Allen, director of the International Centre for Prison Studies. "The danger is that all these measures end up as a fast track into custody."

The curfews and dispersal orders will run alongside anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos). Asbos have been heralded as a great success in curbing the behaviour of young people with a history of offending.

However, the increasing use of Asbos was attacked last week by the European human rights commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles who warned that the naming and shaming of people, especially youngsters subject to Asbos, breached their human rights.

Additional reporting by Lyndsey Newton and Steve Bloomfield