Yomps could save yobs, says minister

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YOUNG OFFENDERS can be weaned off crime and a culture of 'instant pleasure and gratification' by being left on mountains eight hours away from a 'hot bath, warm fire and tasty stew,' a Home Office minister has claimed.

At a closed seminar earlier this month, David Maclean, the minister responsible for crime policy, said television had 'raised the excitement threshold' and the young now found old fashioned entertainment, such as visits to the zoo, 'dead boring' and had turned to joy- riding. The right-wing minister said that he planned to get the probation service to draw up Army-style exercise programmes which would 'expose troublemakers to tough conditions'. But probation officers' leaders said Mr Maclean was 'off the wall' and that their members would not co-operate.

Mr Maclean's speech has also divided the Home Office. Two uncontroversial drafts were prepared by his civil servants. Both were rejected by him.

The minister told his audience that he wanted demanding physical activities for young offenders, not safaris to Africa or visits to holiday camps.

He claimed that boredom was responsible for the crime of young male hoooligans. There was plenty for bored teenagers to do, but legal pastimes did not 'give enough buzz of a thrill and don't compare with the excitement of doing something illegal and seeing the police come after them'.

Drawing on his experience of the Territorial Army, Mr Maclean said he thought he had found an activity which would 'turn around youngsters'.

The military took youngsters, he said, who were 'pretty incompentent, who could not get out of bed at the same time two days running' and turned them around.

'The moment when a kid realises that his own success and well-being depends on the goodwill and co-operation of others in the team, that is the moment to ram home the message that when he is back home the rest of life is like that.

'When you are cold, wet and miserable and there is another ten miles and eight hours to go before the hot bath, the warm fire and the tasty stew, that is the best time to learn that in life you can't always get instant pleasure and gratification. When you see the little weedy guy - whom you laughed at at the start - but at the end he still has the stamina to help you along when you are puffing and falling . . . and share his last Mars bar with you and give you a clean pair of dry socks because he had the sense to pack them, you learn there are other role models in society rather than the big thug.

'And when you have never done anything more strenuous than reach for the video control, you can look back and say 'I did that. I came through that' . . . you are on the road to realising that you don't always have to be preceived as useless.'

The minister said that he was not 'some Colonel Blimp character' and did not want to expose young troublemakers to tough conditions just for the sake of it.

But Harry Fletcher, spokesman for the National Association of Probation Officers, said he found Mr Maclean's ideas ludicrous. Many young offenders who had taken drugs or sniffed glue were in no condition to stand up to hard Army training which has killed fit Army recruits in the past, he said.

'His claim that television causes crime is even more off the wall,' he added. 'His own department has found no links, but it has repeatedly found connections between poverty and crime. Presumably Mr Maclean does not want to look at this evidence because it's embarrassing for him and his government.'