Doubling of Asbos raises concern over misuse

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The Independent Online

The use of anti-social behaviour orders more than doubled last year, the Home Office has said, raising fears that they are being used inappropriately against the vulnerable, the young and the mentally ill.

Police and local authorities issued 2,643 Asbos during 2004, up from 1,040 the year before. Announcing the rise, Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister, defended the policy and praised local authorities for "responding enthusiastically to the powers available to them". Arguing that the orders were making a "real difference" to people's lives, she pointed to new powers to lift automatic reporting restrictions on new court cases which will allow newspapers to "name and shame" children who breach their Asbos, due to come into force tomorrow.

The figures revealed that since the policy was introduced six years ago, 2,057 of the 4,649 orders have been made against children aged between 10 and 17.

The Government's policy was criticised as being ineffective by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "What these figures don't show are that 40 per cent of Asbos are broken. Victims of crime and anti- social behaviour deserve policies which offer long-term solutions, not quick fixes."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said Asbos were not tackling the root causes of anti-social behaviour. "Asbos remain a sticking plaster over an amputation as a solution to crime and disorder ... headline grabbing approaches, like naming and shaming may serve only to label young people as failures, instead of dealing with the problems they face", he said.

The human rights group, Liberty, and the probation union, Napo, warned that Asbos were being used by councils to remove unwanted people from the streets. Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, said the increase was "deeply worrying".

"Some local authorities are using the powers to drive off the streets anybody whose behaviour is eccentric, undesirable or a nuisance," he said.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, called for the debate to be broadened out in order that underlying causes of crime can be explored. "We remain concerned that the innocent and vulnerable are being caught up alongside the guilty, " she said.