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Last Updated: Friday, 26 March, 2004, 11:30 GMT
On patrol with the yob squad
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Gangs of youths are blamed for harassing residents and causing crime in towns and cities across the UK. Police now have controversial powers to make them move on - or face arrest.

Police on Nottingham's Clifton estate are among the first in the country to use the new powers, designed to tackle thuggish behaviour.

Three areas of the estate have become no-go zones. It means officers can now order teenagers to disperse and if they don't, they can arrest them.

BBC News Online joined Sergeant Phil Matthews and his team to see how they are using the powers and what Clifton's 30,000 residents think of them.

Other forces are also beginning to use the legislation, which could be enforced wherever residents have trouble with teenage gangs.

1500: School day ending

On Noble Road, residents Kevin and Marian Chapman say most people on the estate have had enough.

If I could sell the business I would move straight away
Local shopkeeper Behrouz Emkani

"I've seen neighbours' cars with windows put out, buses attacked and kids run riot in the old folks' home," says Mr Chapman. "They stole fire extinguishers from there and let them off in the street. I thought, bloody hell, it's snowing."

"We need the patrols but the kids don't have anything to do," says Marian. "And if a copper gives a gobful of abuse, they're not going to get any respect back, are they?"

1545: Clifton police station

Sgt Matthews is preparing his team for the patrol.

"If we can come down heavier on the fringes of criminality then we can separate the younger kids, who are OK, from the older ones who break the law," he says.

WHO THE ACT TARGETS
Sgt Phil Matthews
Groups of two or more
In areas known for nuisance crimes
Individuals causing or likely to cause distress

At the briefing, Sgt Matthews goes over the law and how they can use it.

"Under Section 30 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, we can direct a group of two or more people to disperse. If they do not, we can order them not to return for 24 hours.

"We must have reason to believe their presence results in - or is likely to result in - alarm, distress or intimidation. I think we can say face masks are fairly intimidating."

Pulling on his jacket, beat manager Pc Darren White, is confident the trouble-makers will be out as usual.

"People just want to go down the shops," he says. "That's their lawful right and if they can't go about their business, we have to do something about it."

1630: Patrols begin

Sgt Matthews has been authorised by area commanders to throw everything at the problem - and the officers are upbeat.

Police talking to youths
Warned: Local youths are told the rules
Outside shops on Bransdale Road, five youths are larking around. Pc Andy Watson takes a softly-softly approach.

"Alright lads, where are we going to find you later?" he asks.

"Fast asleep in bed," quips one.

Nearby, Sharon Webb is sweeping up broken glass caused by someone throwing light bulbs. "There's nothing for the kids to do," she complains.

So what would the group, now 10-strong, do instead of hanging around if they had the money?

"I'd build a motor-cross track," says Chad, and the others enthusiastically agree. "I'd buy some new trainers," says another.

1710: Masked gang

Angel Green is the arena for the main event. It's virtually impossible to police because of dozens of exits.

Cleaning up after the latest vandalism
As we approach, five lads are wearing hooded tops with baseball caps low over their eyes. Ski masks cover most of their faces.

From the safety of 100 yards away, they shout abuse at Sgt Matthews and Pc Watson and run off.

"See what we mean?" says Sgt Matthews, pointing to a resident scurrying away. "Imagine what that woman feels like - it's even worse for the older residents."

It looks like the gang wants to find somewhere to smoke cannabis. As the officers pursue them, the gang double-back down an alley, jeering.

1720: Newsagent

The Sethi family run a successful business. But they've had enough of the gangs, and the fortified shop is up for sale.

"They force their way in wearing the usual Clifton uniform [hoodies and ski masks]," says Mr Sethi. "They steal and are abusive. What are the parents doing when these kids are out? They just don't seem interested."

1730: Capture

The gang are on Angel Green but this time they won't get away. As the officers close in, two of the five wheel away. But the team are on to them.

You're nicked: The new powers in effect

There's a brief half-hearted chase but the youths recognise they're caught. One makes a break and evades the would-be rugby tackle of Pc Watson.

Two are immediately arrested because they ignored the order to disperse. Handcuffed and protesting theatrically, they are bundled into the patrol car.

The group is well known to the officers. One of the teenagers has just been released from wearing a tag for burglary and theft offences.

1745: Cat and mouse

Pcs Watson and White return to the green to keep watch.

"Some of the younger kids look up to the older ones, especially if they have previous convictions," says Pc Watson. "And so this kind of thing is just treated like a game."

"Hello Pc White!" says one of a group of little girls with their mothers.

"Hello love!" he replies, giving her a grin.

"That's my master plan," he laughs. "I aim to know every under-10 by 2005 so that if they step out of line, then they know what's coming."

1800: Chase on again

The youths are spotted and the officers are off again. One local walking his dog points towards where he saw them.

"You caught 'em all yet?" asks a woman through her lounge window that looks onto the green.

"Almost," replies 46-year-old Pc Rippon, dashing past.

1820: Pensioners pleased

It looks like the gang have got the message and gone home.

At one of the two pensioner complexes, 82-year-old Jack Lee is satisfied. In the past week alone, he says there has been an "80% improvement".

1845: Bus attacks

Buses are easy targets.

The council has thinned out hedges to prevent youths hiding and throwing rocks at the passing double-deckers.

A few months back, a youth reached into the driver's cab at the terminus and let off the handbrake.

The bus rolled backwards, smashing into a tree, injuring a passenger and causing 30,000 of damage.

One driver demonstrates the new panic alarm. It's a loud public announcement asking the public to call 999.

The driver grins and agrees it's a bit comic. "You just don't want to let them get to you."

1930: Wrapping up

Word has got around about the arrests and the usual targets are nowhere to be seen.

In another 90 minutes, the night response team will have additional powers to take under-16s home. Sgt Matthews and his team have had a good night's work.

If the courts agree a total area ban for one of the most prolific teenager offenders, his evenings may become easier still.

"We will have to see how it works over the coming months. Even if they don't get charged, the troublemakers know we have the powers to take them in.

"We are sending them a psychological message that we are here."




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