Publicity stunt or deterrent?

Number of Asbos issued June 2000 to June 2002

                            Male          Female


10-17                 288             15

18+                     170             53

Unknown           20               3

Figures relate to England and Wales only Source: Home

The issue of an antisocial behaviour order to 11-year-old Lukon
Straker last month split the social care sector. Some argued the
order was inappropriate, others said the victims of antisocial
behaviour were being protected at last.

Antisocial behaviour orders were introduced in England and Wales in
the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and came into force in April 1999.
For the first time, councils and the police could apply to a
magistrates’ court for an order to prohibit an individual from
causing harassment, alarm or distress in a particular area. There
is no maximum time limit for an Asbo, although the minimum is two
years. The most controversial element of the orders is that they
can be awarded to children as young as 10. Although an Asbo is a
civil order, breaching one is a criminal offence and, if convicted,
the individual can face up to five years’ jail.

Last November, the Home Office published guidance to maximise the
use of the orders. Changes to Asbos, implemented by the Police
Reform Act 2002, came into effect last December. Under the measures
housing associations and the British Transport Police can also
apply for Asbos. Courts can now impose the orders more quickly and
can attach conditions to prevent an individual behaving
antisocially in a wider area.

This means that social housing providers are legally entitled to
deal with problem tenants in an entirely new way. Even if a person
moves to another neighbourhood, they are still banned from acting
in ways likely to distress others.

There were 641 Asbos issued in England and 12 in Wales between
April 1999 and June 2002, according to the Home Office. Local
authorities and police in the West Midlands police area awarded the
highest number of orders – 39 – to young people aged 10-17. This is
followed by 28 orders against 10-17 year olds in West Mercia and 21
in Greater Manchester.

The 653 Asbos imposed is nowhere near the 5,000 referred to in the
Crime and Disorder Bill’s financial costings. The Home Office has
always defended the low take-up rate, saying that the figure was
never a target for the use of Asbos.

Although the take-up rate is slow, some local authorities, police
forces and social landlords clearly believe Asbos are the best tool
for stopping antisocial behaviour. Orders that have hit the
headlines concern under-17s and are often publicised by the
organisation involved. But what impact do the orders have on a
child or young person? Are councils right to publicise them? And
what alternatives are there to address young people’s antisocial

Phil Heywood, co-ordinator of Wolverhampton Council’s antisocial
behaviour unit, believes the local authority had no choice but to
seek an Asbo against Straker. Between the middle of July 2001 and
October 2002 Straker was involved in 23 incidents of antisocial
behaviour in the Low Hill area of the city. These ranged from
intimidation and threats to criminal damage, assault and

Throughout this period Heywood says the unit liaised with the
police, social services and the youth offending team regarding
Straker. “Though in discussions with other agencies, none of the
action we took had the desired effect of stopping Lukon’s
behaviour,” he says.

In court in January the council cited 14 incidents committed by
Straker over six months. The court issued Straker with a four-year
Asbo banning him from entering parts of Low Hill unless accompanied
by an adult aged 21 or over. He is also not allowed to behave in an
abusive and threatening manner or enter named property without

Heywood admits that Straker is the youngest person in the West
Midlands to receive an order but denies the council wanted to “name
and shame” him. “We are not trying to criminalise youngsters but
afford protection for the community,” he says. “We are trying to
protect those who feel harassed and threatened.”

Since January 1999, less than half of the eight people issued with
Asbos on Wolverhampton’s behalf have breached them. Straker has not
breached his so far but Heywood says that, if he does so, he wants
the courts to deal with him seriously.

Although Wolverhampton has not yet actively publicised Straker’s
Asbo locally, Heywood believes it would not be wrong to do so. He
says they will consider it if there is a breakdown in communication
with local people about what the unit does to remedy antisocial
behaviour in the future.

Equally adamant that Asbos are a necessary tool is Middlesbrough
Council’s community protection service operations manager, Mandy

Since the local authority established a team of enforcement
officers in November 2001 it has issued three Asbos. The most
notable was the four-year order imposed on 16-year-old Nathan
Patton in October last year. Between January 2000 and February 2002
he was involved in 45 incidents of antisocial behaviour, including
stealing and burning cars and intimidating residents and

Walker says the council was spurred on to apply for an order by the
strength of local feeling after 20 households were forced to leave
the Hemlington area of the city. “There was a huge groundswell of
concern among residents about a group of eight people, of which
Nathan was one of the four ringleaders.”

As with every individual whose behaviour may warrant applying for
an Asbo, Walker says they explored all areas of Patton’s life with
him and his mother and he was referred to relevant agencies. She
says: “Our enforcement officers care very much about young people
like Nathan and know that they haven’t had the best of

Once the Asbo was imposed Walker felt it should be publicised. She
had 800 leaflets featuring Patton’s photograph and detailing the
behaviour he was banned from engaging in – and who to call if he
did – posted to local homes. She admits some saw this as a highly
contentious move: “There was a sway of opinion that we were naming
and shaming Nathan but I argue we weren’t. Everyone in the local
community knew him because he put himself in that position.”

Walker says Patton breached his order almost immediately and in
January was given a 12-month detention and training order in a
young offenders institution.

A Home Office spokesperson defends councils’ right to distribute
posters and leaflets about young people with Asbos. He says:
“Promoting awareness of the orders reassures communities that
action is being taken to tackle antisocial behaviour and enables
them to assist the responsible authorities in monitoring the

Human rights solicitor Bernadette Livesey says local authorities
that publicise the names of young people with Asbos are not
breaking the law. Livesey, who works for Leeds-based firm of
solicitors Walker Morris, says judges base their decisions to allow
agencies to publicise the names of young people with an Asbo on the
evidence of their antisocial behaviour.

She adds that under article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which
covers the prevention of crime and disorder, a person can be named
if a judge rules that their behaviour is likely to cause a crime.
“The justification for this is to assist in the protection of
others in the community,” Livesey says. Article 8 also covers the
right to privacy. Once a judge has decided an agency can breach
this by publicising the name of a young person with an Asbo,
Livesey argues that using their photograph is just another

But not everyone is in favour of Asbos. Barnardo’s principal policy
officer, Pam Hibbert, is particularly critical of the order issued
to Straker because of his age: “When you are a child, two days is a
long time and four years will seem like for ever. The length of the
order is a disincentive to comply with it because a child of 11
cannot see the end of it.”

Howard League for Penal Reform director Frances Crook is also
unconvinced: “They are a publicity stunt of the cheapest, nastiest
and most dangerous kind that put children at risk,” she says. Asbo
publicity “creates an expectation that the only way to deal with
difficult children is through excessive punishment and social
exclusion”. She adds that this expectation of revenge is “extremely
dangerous” to the fabric of a community.

But if Asbos are not the answer, what is? Hibbert recommends
following the example of Barnardo’s Blackpool project. Its
multi-agency panel includes professionals from education, social
services and the police who meet the child and discuss their
behaviour. “We need to look at why a child is doing this and their
community needs to take responsibility for them rather than moving
the child on,” she says.

Councils should operate a range of problem-solving networks in
neighbourhoods where antisocial behaviour is prevalent, Crook says.
She adds that people should stop looking for the simple answer to
stop young people offending: “Politicians are always looking for
the simple answer. Let’s hope this issue comes back to haunt the
government at the next election.”

Catalyst for change

Asbos come under the remit of the Home Office’s new
anti-social behaviour unit, headed by Louise Casey, the former head
of the homelessness directorate and the rough sleepers unit.

The unit’s first task will be to produce the antisocial
behaviour bill, as announced in the Queen’s speech. Although
no firm date has been given for the bill, a green paper is expected
in the spring.

A Home Office spokesperson says the unit “will act as a
catalyst” to drive the government’s “cross-cutting agenda”.
It will develop strategy and focus on the implementation of
existing initiatives and legislation to stop antisocial behaviour.
It will also work with local authorities to create best practice
for tackling antisocial behaviour.


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