More Asbos and £100 spot fines in 'anti-yob' drive

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The Independent Online

Parish and town council wardens are to get the power to issue on-the-spot fines of up to £100 for dog-fouling, littering and graffiti in a major extension of the Government's drive against antisocial behaviour.

Parish and town council wardens are to get the power to issue on-the-spot fines of up to £100 for dog-fouling, littering and graffiti in a major extension of the Government's drive against antisocial behaviour.

The initiative was announced as Tony Blair and David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, sought to give fresh impetus to their efforts to curb yobbery and vandalism.

Speaking at a conference in south-east London to mark the first anniversary of Labour's campaign to crack down on antisocial behaviour, they promised that 50 communities across England and Wales would get extra money to issue hooligans and nuisance neighbours with antisocial behaviour orders (Asbos) and that drug-users receiving the orders would have to undergo treatment for their habit.

The parish council move was denounced by the Conservatives as a "gimmick", while penal reform groups warned that stepping up the use of Asbos could increase the prison population, which is already the highest in western Europe.

But Mr Blair called on police and councils to use their powers against thuggish behaviour "relentlessly" so that "we can free every community from fear". He said: "For too long, the selfish minority have had it all their own way. That is changing. The fight-back against the criminals, the louts and the nuisance neighbours is well under way."

The new powers on fixed-penalty notices are aimed at 10,000 parish and town councils covering nearly a third of the country. They will be able to impose fines of between £30 and £100 for a range of offences classified as antisocial, including dog-fouling, littering, vandalism, making excessive night-time noise, fly-posting and throwing fireworks. The fines could be issued by wardens, rangers or crime and safety officers representing parish or town councils and accredited by the police. The new powers will be set out in an Act of Parliament to be included in next month's Queen's Speech.

Mr Blunkett said 50 more areas, from Plymouth to Newcastle and from Canterbury to Blackburn, would be given extra cash to target low-level yobbery by issuing Asbos through the courts. They join 10 "trailblazer" districts where ministers say existing initiatives have already had a significant effect on curbing antisocial behaviour.

The number of special courts where such cases can be fast-tracked will be tripled and vulnerable witnesses testifying against intimidating neighbours will be able to give evidence by video link or from behind protective screens.

New powers will also be created so the civil courts can compel people served with Asbos to undergo drug treatment. At the moment, people can only be forced into such schemes if they have been convicted of a criminal offence. Mr Blunkett said the new powers would apply across the board from users to dealers linked to an organised crime gang. He added that it would cover all drugs, but particularly class A substances, such as crack and heroin, which were the most damaging to communities.

Mr Blunkett said about 100,000 cases of thuggery and nuisance had been dealt with over the past year under existing powers. But he added: "There is no room for complacency. We know that too many communities are still blighted by antisocial behaviour, with the yobbish behaviour of a few thugs ruining the quality of life of whole communities."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "Giving parish councils the power to issue fines is the latest in a long line of gimmicks. Seven years after Labour promised to get tough, antisocial behaviour is out of control."

Rob Allen, director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment, said: "Pressuring local councils to impose more and more Asbos will inevitably propel into prison some who breach the long and strict requirements. Locking up young people who breach Asbos does not sit well with the Government's stated policy of reserving prison for the most serious dangerous and persistent offenders."

Chris Stanley, head of the youth crime section for Nacro, the crime reduction charity, said: "The number of young people in custody in this country has increased dramatically over the past couple of years. This trend is set to continue, at least in part because of the number sentenced to custody for breach of Asbos."

THE ORDERS

* Total orders imposed from July 2000 to September 2004: 4,150

* Orders imposed from October 2003 to September 2004: 2,633

* About 36 per cent of Asbos are breached

* 418 dispersal orders issued (in past nine months)

* Greater Manchester has issued the most Asbos: 509 from April 1999 to June 2004; Wiltshire and Lincolnshire have issued the fewest: 11 in the same period

* Asbo recipients have been forbidden from wearing woolly hats, knocking on front doors or ringing doorbells, owning a stereo or television, and entering NHS buildings

Orders help to revive troubled estate

Residents of a North Tyneside housing estate were beginning to feel under siege by a gang of teenagers whose anti-social behaviour included vandalism, drug-taking, drinking and pelting Metro trains and police with stones.

The mob, which had six leaders, made malicious phone calls to the fire brigade and terrorised residents. At the height of the troubles, 70 per cent of residents wanted to be moved out of the Martin Road area in Howdon.

But it all changed in June 2002 when Northumbria Police obtained Asbos for Richard O'Carroll, Lee Armstrong, Wayne Dack, Andrew Patterson and Paul Borg, all under 18 at the time, banning them from several streets, and prohibited Kelvin Shotton, then 16, from causing harassment.

By August 2003, families were queuing for houses on the estate. A CD-Rom was funded by the Government Office for the North East as an example of good practice; and council executives from Northern Ireland visited the estate in May to witness the change.

Alan Robson, community safety operations manager for North Tyneside Partnership, said the Asbos had an "almost immediate effect".

One of the teenagers, Dack, is serving a four-year sentence in a youth offenders institution.

A Northumbria Police officer said: "On the whole, they [the youths] have grown up and grown out of it."

Arifa Akbar