Drunken vandals could face £200 on-the-spot fines

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Indy Politics

Fixed penalty fines of up to £200 could be handed out to suspected drunks and louts as young as 16, under Home Office proposals announced yesterday.

Fixed penalty fines of up to £200 could be handed out to suspected drunks and louts as young as 16, under Home Office proposals announced yesterday.

The parking ticket style fines would also apply to those suspected of carrying out minor vandalism, abusive and threatening behaviour, under-aged drinking, and consuming alcohol in a banned area.

The measures, contained in a consultation document published yesterday, are aimed at what Tony Blair described as "loutish behaviour" often fuelled by alcohol. They will also allow the police to adopt a more aggressive form of "zero tolerance" policing.

Anyone given a fixed fine would be given the choice of either paying it or challenging the criminal offence in court and risk incurring costs and a higher financial penalty. The Government hopes to save millions of pounds on court cases as well as saving police time.

The fixed penalties would only apply to offences where courts already give fines or those that are dealt with by a formal warning.

The consultation document, "Reducing Public Disorder: The Role of Fixed Penalty Notices", suggests penalties of £50 to £100 for more minor offences and £100 to £200 for more serious ones.

The main types of crime that would be targeted, says the paper, are: being so drunk in public that the person has lost self-control; using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour; displaying writing or signs that are abusive; minor criminal damage, such as spray painting graffiti; disorderly behaviour in public; buying alcohol for anyone aged under 18; drinking alcohol in a banned area such as a city centre that forbids street consumption.

The aim of the fines, says the document, "is to ensure that police can put an immediate stop to misbehaviour and provide a swift punishment, and have in their power a real practical deterrent while taking up as little police time as possible."

It adds: "An individual can decide either to pay the fixed penalty, or contest the case in court."

Announcing the plans, Mr Blair said: "The Government is determined to deal firmly with the type of loutish behaviour, often fuelled by alcohol, which has become all too commonplace in our villages, towns and cities.

"Fixed penalty notices will enable the police to deal effectively and speedily with minor offences of public drunkenness and disorder, while reducing the time they have to spend on paperwork."

The proposals are a retreat from Mr Blair's earlier suggestion that louts should be marched to cash dispensers and forced to pay police officers on-the-spot fines.

Chief police officers welcomed yesterday's proposals. Ted Crew, spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "We are delighted to see these new proposals coming forward.

"We were actively involved in their preparation and are very keen to give our officers non-bureaucratic powers with the ability to back them up in the event of non-compliance."

John Wadham, director, of Liberty, the civil rights' organisation, gave the measures a cautious welcome. He said: "It gives people the option to pay up and not bother with the criminal courts."