Home Secretary announces end to 'ludicrous' system of Asbos

The Home Secretary yesterday read the last rites for Tony Blair's flagship policy for dealing with noisy neighbours, drunk teenagers, fly-tippers, graffiti artists and vandals.

Theresa May said it was "time to move beyond" the system of antisocial behaviour orders (Asbos) brought in by the last government to deal with low-level yobbishness.

Opinion has been divided over the merits of Asbos since their introduction 11 years ago. Labour ministers trumpeted the civil orders as an invaluable tool for nipping bad behaviour in the bud before it escalated into full-blown criminality. They also argued that the Asbo regime helped to improve the quality of everyday life across the country.

But critics protested that the numbers of orders handed out varied hugely between different councils and that young people who breached them found themselves caught up in the criminal court system. There was also evidence that having an Asbo became seen as a "badge of honour" for some youths.

Ms May yesterday declared that the system had failed, pointing to new statistics indicating that the use of Asbos had fallen to its lowest level and that more than half of those that are issued are breached. "We need a complete change in emphasis, with communities working with the police and other agencies to stop bad behaviour escalating that far," she said.

Attacking the last government for producing a "ludicrous list" of powers for tackling antisocial behaviour, she said: "These sanctions were too complex and bureaucratic. There were too many of them. They were too time-consuming and expensive and they too often criminalise young people unnecessarily, acting as a conveyor belt to serious crime and prison."

She announced a review of police powers, promising to replace Asbos with "simpler sanctions which are easier to obtain and to enforce".

Upon arriving in power Mr Blair vowed to mount a "personal crusade" against anti-social behaviour. In its election manifesto this year, Labour promised to toughen up the enforcement of Asbos. Almost 17,000 of the orders have been issued since their introduction, of which 55 per cent have been breached at least once. Jail sentences were given to 4,944 people for breaching the orders over this period.

The use of Asbos reached a high in 2005, when 4,122 were handed out, with the number falling in each subsequent year. In 2008, 2,027 were issued. A total of 1,266 Asbos were breached during the year, the highest rate on record.

Alan Johnson, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "There is no doubt that the introduction of Asbos has made a huge contribution towards tackling crime and anti-social behaviour."

David Blunkett, who championed the orders as Home Secretary, accused Ms May of posing "a major threat to the lives and well-being of those at the very sharp end of criminality and dysfunctional communities". But she was backed by the Association of Chief Police Officers who said it supported a "simplification of the tools and powers available to frontline practitioners".

Ms May also promised yesterday to crack down on binge drinking, saying the liberalisation of licensing laws had failed to produce a 24-hour drinking "café culture". She said: "In its place we have seen an increase in the number of alcohol-related incidents and drink-fuelled crime and disorder."

The Home Secretary said a ban on selling alcohol at below cost prices was being considered, along with tougher penalties for serving under-age drinkers.

Unusual Asbos

Oldest Christopher Muat, from Liverpool, who aged 88 was ordered not to bang on any object, film his neighbours, turn up his TV to an unreasonable volume, shout, swear or make "sarcastic" remarks.

Persistent Caroline Cartwright, 49, of Tyne & Wear, avoided jail this year despite repeated breaches of an Asbo banning her from having noisy sex – neighbours described it as "murder" and "unnatural".

Most bestial Shepherd Jeremy Awdry, 60, lost the right to graze sheep in Bream, the Forest of Dean, after his flock were "used as a means of intimidating". "Sheep were found lying outside houses dead with their [people's] name written in red on them," said the prosecutor.

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