'Victor Meldrew syndrome' blamed for demonisation of young people

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The Independent Online

Grumpy old men suffering from "Victor Meldrew syndrome" are in danger of demonising all young people as yobs and hooligans, a police chief has warned.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick, who is in charge of youth crime for the Metropolitan Police, argued that "youthful exuberance" that would have been tolerated 20 years ago was increasingly being described as antisocial behaviour.

Mr Paddick partly blamed the widely held belief that today's youths are more disrespectful and antisocial than previous generations on people who resembled the curmudgeonly Meldrew character in the television series One Foot in the Grave. He told The Independent: "Behaviour by young people that was tolerated 20 or 30 years ago is now considered to be unacceptable. Society is perhaps less tolerant of exuberant behaviour than it has been in the past.

"When kids used to play football in the street and hit a car people used to not be particularly concerned about it. Now it would probably result in a heated argument in the street between the car owner and the young person."

He added: "We are in danger, as we have been with other particular groups in society, of negatively stereotyping young people as hooligans whereas the vast majority of young people are decent, law abiding citizens who want to do the right thing."

The Home Office and the police have placed increased emphasis on tackling antisocial behaviour from among others hooded yobs, drunken hooligans, litter louts, and graffiti sprayers.

Nearly half of the 5,600 antisocial behaviour orders issued by courts have been against juveniles.

But Mr Paddick, who has been a controversial policing figure particularly after pioneering a more liberal approach to cannabis possession, is concerned that there is a danger of the majority of young people being branded as bad.

He argued: "We're only talking about a minority of young people. There is a danger of demonising young people as a group if we are not careful."

He continued: "I think disrespect is not something unique to young people. Whether it's the way the media treats senior politicians through to the attitudes some young people have even towards teachers in classrooms.

"I think it's a problem generally for society and one that's not unique to young people. And the Prime Minister has said as much, and [the Government's] 'respect agenda' is as much around neighbours from hell and drunken, yobbish behaviour of adults as it is around young people.

"I don't think it's fair to take young people in isolation. At the end of the day I think a large part of the solution to disrespect among young people is for them to be treated with more respect themselves, to be treated as young adults, and provide them with something useful and constructive too."

As part of the Metropolitan Police's work against youth crime, the force is researching why so many young people are stealing mobile phones and pocket money from fellow school children.

Mr Paddick said: "It's usually young people on young people. The violence can be from threats to minor assaults."

He said that one reason given by the offenders was that they could not get part-time jobs and had no access to spending money, so they were turning to crime.