Court lets newspapers name gang of children

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The Independent Online

Eight children who caused havoc in a town centre in Kent have been publicly named under laws to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Eight children who caused havoc in a town centre in Kent have been publicly named under laws to tackle anti-social behaviour.

The anti-social behaviour orders issued against them are believed to be the highest number from a single hearing since the legislation was introduced nearly two years ago.

The gang of youngsters, aged between 10 and 14, has been banned from entering 10 shops and the public library in Gillingham and was warned that failure to follow the order could result in six-month custodial sentences.

The names of the children, six boys and two girls, are being published in at least two local newspapers. Normally children under the age of 14 are legally protected from being identified in court proceedings, but because this was a civil case they could be named and their pictures published.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has struggled to persuade magistrates, the police and local authorities to use the anti-social behaviour orders (ASBO) which came into force in April 1999. Despite the Home Office predicting that 5,000 orders would be made every year, so far only about 150 have been issued.

Under the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act magistrates in England and Wales can impose restrictions on the movements and actions of named individuals as young as 10 who have committed anti-social behaviour such as vandalism and harassment. The orders apply for a minimum of two years and are aimed at helping tackle lawlessness among tearaway children and teenagers.

The newspaper, Medway Today, published the details of the eight children on their front page yesterday. The six boys are aged 10 to 14, and the two girls are both 11. The offenders include triplets. The Kent Messenger, a weekly, is due to publish the same details tomorrow.

Nikki White, the assistant news editor of Medway Today, said: "The whole point of ASBOs is that they [the children] are named and shamed so that they will change their ways."

Medway magistrates in Chatham were told yesterday that the eight children had intimidated traders in Gillingham with foul language and vandalism last year.

Michael O'Brien, chairman of the bench, told seven of the children who appeared in court: "The actions you have carried out as part of a group are quite awful and caused lots of distress to lots of people. We are mindful of the fact that the purpose of this order is to protect shopkeepers and people in the society in which you live."

The shops they were banned from included Woolworths, Pound Store, Poundland, Discount Baby Store, Bikes, Bikes, Bikes, Video City and Medway Pets as well as the Britton Farm Shopping Mall.

The orders, which the seven in court accepted, forbid them from engaging in any conduct that causes or is likely to cause alarm, harassment or distress to shopkeepers, their employees or customers in Gillingham High Street and at the town'slibrary.

Medway magistrates' court granted the orders to Roches-ter upon Medway City Council after a joint investigation by council officers and the police, which included evidence from surveillance cameras.

Colin Hogan, who runs Medway Pets, said: "We've had no end of problems with these kids over the last six months. They have no regard for the law whatsoever because they are so young they know that the police cannot really do much to them.

"The final straw for us was when some of the kids came into the pet store and began causing trouble. My wife, Carol, asked a boy to leave and he turned around and threw a handful of coins in her face."