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UK: Parents cry foul as 'anti-social' teenagers are named and shamed Observer ^ | 10/12/03 | Martin Bright
Parents cry foul as 'anti-social' teenagers are named and shamed
Martin Bright, home affairs editor Sunday October 12, 2003 The Observer
At first glance, the leaflet looked much like any other junk mail: a credit card offer perhaps, a new takeaway or advert for double glazing. But when residents in Neasden in north-west London took a closer look at the literature that arrived on their doormats they realised this was something quite different. In a unique experiment, seven local youths, the youngest just 15, were named and shamed in the leaflet as members of a gang that had been terrorising the neighbourhood. In the first mass Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) in Britain, all seven were banned from the streets in the Chalkhill area of Neasden, where they were said to have waged a campaign of harassment for two years.
'The Anti-Social Behaviour of these individuals has caused misery for residents in the Neasden and Chalkhill Area' said the leaflet. ' TOGETHER THEY HAVE BEEN CONVICTED OF OVER 100 OFFENCES' .
The names and photographs of all seven were printed, along with a map outlining the areas from which they were excluded.
In a dramatic attempt to cut crime in the London borough of Brent, the glossy, full-colour leaflets were distributed to every house in the exclusion zone, inviting residents to call the police, a local council helpline or Crimestoppers if the young men were seen in the area. The leaflets explained that the drastic ban had been put in place for at least five years and any breach invited an immediate prison sentence. They were also banned from 'acting anti-socially' anywhere in England and Wales.
According to the leaflet, the group had used foul and abusive language, committed theft, burglary and street robbery, regularly possessed drugs and knives and urinated outside residents' doors. More enigmatically, they were accused of 'plunging elderly residents into darkness'.
According to the police and local press reports, the so-called Press Road Crew had shown no remorse in court, when the orders were imposed last month and two gang members had threatened the judge and counsel for the police with retribution.
One resident surprised by the leaflet was Carol, mother of 16-year-old William Marshall, who was among those named and shamed.
'The first I knew about the leaflet was when it came through the letterbox and my three-year-old daughter brought it to me. She was kissing the leaflet and telling me she had found a picture of William. I think the whole thing is outrageous. I've never seen anything like it.'
Carol and other parents of the seven are mounting a legal challenge under the Human Rights Act to have the leaflet withdrawn, along with laminated posters in local pubs. They claim that their right to privacy and family life have been infringed by the leaflets, which have made the gang outcasts in their community.
'It was all based on hearsay evidence and they picked on these kids because they had already been in trouble and knew they had records,' said Martina, mother of 18-year-old Martin Kelly, who she claimed had been stopped and searched 39 times by police in a campaign of harassment. 'Our families have been destroyed by this.'
If successful, the challenge could stop Anti-Social Behaviour Orders in their tracks; they already cost around ?5,000 each to set up, and few councils would be prepared to foot the cost of lengthy appeals.
But most people in Neasden who spoke to The Observer had little sympathy for the group. Police figures show that crime has fallen by 25 per cent in the exclusion zone since the ASBOs were issued. Residents in the vicinity of Brill House - a run-down, low-rise block on the edge of a dual carriageway which had been the focus of the youths' activities - said their lives had become bearable since the leaflets were issued.
One elderly woman living alone with her dog said previous attempts to control the boys by closing off alleyways with iron gates had failed and the radical measure had made a huge difference to her life. 'At least they are off the streets now. All we want to do is live in peace and not be disturbed at night,' she said, although she added that she was scared they might return in disguise.
No residents were prepared to be named, but one disabled woman said she recognised two boys in the leaflet as part of the group who frightened her so much she was scared to leave her house, even to sit in the garden. Graffiti covered one side of her house and security lights installed by the council had been smashed.
She felt it was perfectly reasonable to publish the names of the offenders and even thought that the ASBO did not go far enough: 'I'm fed up with do-gooders. These people should be locked up. The people who live here are terrorised. They are afraid to call the police. This is no way to live.'
But one 29-year-old man said the leaflet would just make matters worse: 'They are wannabe gangsters, who go around instilling fear into others.
'The money put into this could have been spent on something more positive.'
Brent council and local police are already enthusiastic converts to ASBOs after the naming of the seven. 'Frankly, this was an extreme case and the leaflet presses all the buttons,' said Colin Moone, assistant director of housing. 'But in the end we had persistent complaints about bad behaviour over at least 18 months. The abuse of police and residents had made it a no-go area.'
Police Inspector Nicola Dale, who instituted the legal action against the group, who originally numbered 18, said that she had no regrets.
'This is as much about reassuring the community that something is being done as anything else. The victims were mainly old people who were frightened even to put a hanging basket outside their flats.'
ASBOs were introduced in April 1999 in what was hailed as a 'zero tolerance' policy by the Government which would shift 'power back to the law-abiding'.
Just over 1,100 have been granted by the courts, but their use has been patchy. Only two have been applied for in Essex and one in Wiltshire, while Greater Manchester courts have granted 184.
Brent council officers said they had been inspired by the example of Manchester, the ASBO capital of Britain, where more than 150,000 name-and-shame leaflets have been distributed.
'We know it is controversial, but are proud to be the leaders on the enforcement of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders in this country,' said Dave Hume, a spokesman for Manchester City Council. 'And our strategy very much includes the naming of juveniles. The leaflets go out specifically to people living in the area affected. It gives people the message that we have taken action on their behalf.'
But children's organisations are concerned that the increased severity of ASBOs are part of a general crackdown on children.
Anti-social behaviour legislation going through Parliament will extend the power to name and shame juveniles to criminal as well as civil cases. At the same time, new laws will stop groups of three or more gathering in public if seen as a nuisance by the public, and give the police powers to escort children home if they are out unaccompanied after 9pm.
Sharon Moone, a policy officer for The Children's Society, said: 'There is a strong risk that this kind of strategy will have a negative impact. These young people need to be engaged with the community, not antagonised and alienated still further.'
Meanwhile, in Brent there has been at least one worrying consequence of the naming strategy. There have been alleged vigilante attacks on the boys, including one in which local gangsters said that they would put the seven 'six feet under' if they stepped out of line.
In a final irony, just days after the leaflets were posted, Martina Burke received a letter from Victim Support, expressing concern that her son had been the victim of a crime and inviting her to call a helpline if she needed to talk to someone about crime in her area.
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