PM sets out 'Respect' approach to tackle hooliganism

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will today put a fresh crackdown on truancy and "neighbours from hell" at the heart of the Government's latest efforts to stamp out antisocial behaviour.

Parents who fail to keep track of children excluded from school may face fines, community support officers will be given the power to pick up truants and unruly householders could be evicted from their homes.

Mr Blair will say that the underlying theme of today's "Respect action plan" will be tackling the "root causes of antisocial behaviour, which lie in families, in the classroom and in communities". He is dispatching 16 ministers to promote the Government's new plans to combat yobbery and low-level disorder.

Opposition parties and criminal justice groups attacked the package for containing gimmicks and previously announced initiatives, and for undermining natural principles of justice.

The action plan - the latest in a succession of criminal justice and antisocial behaviour initiatives introduced by the Government since 1997 - follows Mr Blair's promise made at the Labour conference in September "for a radical extension of summary powers for the police and local authorities to tackle the wrongdoers".

Mr Blair wants the issue of "respect" to define the remainder of his spell in office. He is likely to give the job of coordinating his "respect agenda" to Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister, who is expected to be promoted to the Cabinet within days.

Today's announcement will outline plans for improving behaviour and attendance at schools. It will mix proposals for engaging and stimulating unruly children with fresh efforts to combat disruptive behaviour.

It will challenge parents to meet their responsibilities by proposing to take action against those whose children are found in public places after they have been excluded from school. Mr Blair will also confirm that the number of schools with truancy officers is being increased from 140 to 200. So-called "truancy sweeps" will be stepped up, with community support officers given the authority to pick up youngsters skipping lessons.

A "National Parenting Academy" will be set up where professionals, such as social workers, clinical psychologists, community safety officers and youth justice workers, will have their skills honed. Communities will also be given powers to demand tougher action from police.

Regular "face the people" sessions will force police officers and council officials to reveal what they are doing to tackle yobbery. If they think problems are being ignored, residents will be able to make an official "community call to action".

Police will also get the power to evict the worst problem families from their homes for up to three months if they refuse to improve their behaviour. The proposal is based on police powers to shut down "crack dens".

In the foreword to today's action plan, Mr Blair says that most communities are safe and secure and are good places to live. But he adds: "There are still intractable problems with the behaviour of some individuals and families, behaviour which can make life a misery for others. What lies at the heart of this behaviour is a lack of respect for values that almost everyone in this country shares.

"Antisocial behaviour creates havoc for communities. We will take tough action so that the majority of law-abiding, decent people no longer have to tolerate the behaviour of the few individuals and families that think they do not have to respect others."

The Conservative leader, David Cameron, said: "Tony Blair's recycled crackdowns miss the point. This issue is too important to be dealt with by "eye-catching initiatives" designed to get newspaper headlines. It's about getting to grips with the real problems, tackling the long-term causes of our society's loss of respect."

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "It looks like we're getting a list of rehashed and reheated ideas. It is hard to see how that approach will lead to stronger communities."

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: "When forcing people out of their homes is the latest gimmick, it's time to consider what 'Asbomania' is doing to this country. The vulnerable are swept up with the guilty and naming and shaming is rampant. The Prime Minister 'batters' the values of British justice and calls it 'respect'."

Will McMahon, a senior associate at the Crime and Society Foundation think-tank, said: "With each cranking-up of the 'respect' agenda, the Government takes a further step away from its trumpeted goal of tackling the causes of crime. The sad fact is that no political party has shown any real inclination to address the bedrock of poverty that underlies many of the social problems that the Prime Minister claims to care about."

Unusual orders

By Geneviève Roberts

* RHUBARB ASBO

Margaret Porter, 50, from North Yorkshire, was given a six-year Asbo for attacking her brother with a stick of rhubarb in March last year.

* SUICIDE ASBO

Kim Sutton from Bath, who has tried to commit suicide four times, received an Asbo banning her from jumping into rivers, canals or on to railway lines.

* ANSWERING THE DOOR NAKED ASBO

Caroline Shepherd, 27, was given an Asbo in April after neighbours complained about her wearing skimpy underwear when answering her door in Lanarkshire.

* FEEDING THE BIRDS ASBO

Retired teacher Jean Smith, 60, is banned from putting bread out to feed the birds at her home in Burntisland and anywhere in Fife.

* OLDEST ASBO

Christopher Muat, 88, from Liverpool, received an order stopping him from turning up his TV to an unreasonable volume, shouting, swearing or making "sarcastic" remarks.

* CHRISTMAS TREE ASBO

In 2004, David Boag, 29, was jailed for four months for breaking an Asbo preventing him from howling and dancing naked with a Christmas tree in the window of his flat.

* YOUTH ASBO

Last February, Ryan Wilkinson, 11, was given an Asbo after allegations of burglary, glue-sniffing, assaulting a seven-year-old and throwing a scooter at a packed bus in Leeds.

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