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Last Updated: Monday, 19 July, 2004, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
The wonderful world of Asbos
By Duncan Walker
BBC News Online Magazine

"Minor" crimes like graffiti, yobbish behaviour and vandalism are often those which cause the greatest distress. The battle against anti-social behaviour has become a priority for the authorities, and is only just beginning.

It was gangs of yobbish kids, noisy neighbours and the like that inspired the creation of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos).

The ability to close crack houses, evict disruptive tenants, tackle teenage vandals and much more besides has made the powers popular with troubled residents and local authorities alike.

But since they were introduced by David Blunkett, to help people deal with crimes that were relatively minor but made their lives misery, Asbos have found a host of unexpected uses.

On Monday, the Home Office unveiled plans to include 3,000 people responsible for anti-social behaviour among 5,000 prolific offenders to be targeted as part of a five-year anti-crime initiative.

It coincided with the announcement of a new series of powers for the 33 London councils, under the London Local Authorities Act 2004, allowing them to tackle such anti-social behaviour as hotel theft and cowboy car firms.

The rest of the country will be watching.


The emotive issue of graffiti is one example of anti-social behaviour which the authorities have been particularly keen to tackle. The powers of Asbos allow harsh action against those responsible for leaving their mark wherever they fancy.

In Leeds, police visited 35 homes to tell the vandals to clean up their graffiti, or pay for it to be done professionally.

Vandals can also be banned from carrying items like spray paint or marker pens, which could be used for graffiti. Owners of shops and other buildings defaced with graffiti can now be forced to have them cleaned, under the new powers for London councils.

"This will help boroughs keep the whole communities as free from graffiti as possible," says the Association of London Government.

Shopkeepers face fines of up to 2,500 if they sell aerosol paints to under-16s.


Groups of "intimidating" youths are a problem that cause concern for many people.

Asbos allow groups of two or more young people to be dispersed where there is good reason to do so, but the powers are also finding more innovative uses.

Young people
Police say only disruptive young people will be targeted
A "good behaviour zone" has been created in Somers Town, Camden, to crack down on the problems of youth gangs and drug abuse. The area will be marked with signs and its boundaries patrolled by police, to stop the trouble simply being moved on elsewhere.

Police say they will not "target all young people" but only those with a history of disruptive behaviour.

Chief Superintendent Tony Brooks said: "There will be youngsters in the area playing and behaving in a way which doesn't cause any problems to the residents or the community, and that is welcome."


A teenager nicknamed "The Egg Man" was banned from throwing eggs by magistrates. His egg-related offending so troubled residents of Kirkham, Lancashire, that its shops agreed not to sell them to youths.

The 17-year-old was also banned from having fireworks, in a bid to curb their misuse, under the terms of an interim Asbo.

In Leeds, the authorities used the powers to target youths who had let off fireworks in phone boxes.


The bad behaviour of a minority of yobbish creatures has exposed the animal kingdom to the threat of Asbos.

The over-exuberance of Guinness, a black Labrador, led to a ban on the two-year-old being walked in public by anyone under 16. When he is walked, he must be muzzled and on a leash.

Magistrates made the order after Guinness bit two people and his owner admitted her pet was dangerously out of control.

Despite their placid reputation sheep, and their shepherds, have also been threatened with Asbos. Owners of livestock in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, were warned they could be banned from land and ordered to obey a curfew.

Residents of the area claim they have been upset by the free-roaming flocks wandering on to busy roads, eating garden plants and fouling footpaths.


The temptations of the flesh make clip joints popular with London's seedier inhabitants and visitors, but less so with the residents who have to put up with their mix of sex and outrageously-priced drinks.

Nowhere is the problem worse than in Soho, where the bars operate close to a school. Westminster Council is also trying to improve the area's reputation. Under the new powers, it will be an offence for people to solicit for custom for illegal drinking dens and clip joints.

It is hoped "misguided" punters will stop heading for them.


Fly-posting of adverts for bands is an established part of the music business, but one which could well be in danger of disappearing.

The practice so annoyed residents of Camden, north London, that the local council said it received more than 1,000 complaints.

After music industry executives were threatened with Asbos, and the prospect of five years in jail, Sony told Camden Council it would stop fly-posting. Other firms seemed to heed the warning, with the number of band posters in the area significantly down.

Camden Council's Dame Jane Roberts said: "Fly posting has a detrimental impact on the value of property and contributes to people's fear of crime and, as a result, to actual criminal behaviour, which is why we are seeking to outlaw it."

The borough said removing illegal posters cost it 250,000 a year, while saving the music industry 8m in other forms of advertising.

Its campaign was backed by the Keep Britain Tidy Campaign and has aroused the interest of several other councils.


Street traders working without a licence will face harder times under the new London regime.

Ice cream van
Any unlicensed trader could be in trouble
The stock and equipment of people working without the proper permits can now be confiscated. Those trying to get around legislation by claiming to be "pedlars" will also be targeted.

Hot dog and ice cream sellers are among those who can expect to be kept a close eye on.

Similarly, people running illegal car repair businesses on the street will be subject to tighter laws.


The thought of becoming the next victim of pigeon poo while walking under a bridge is a familiar fear.

But under the powers for London councils, the owners of "dirty bridges" can be forced to take action to stop the birds nesting or roosting under them.

If they refuse to do anything, the councils may be able to do the work themselves and pass the costs on to the owners.

Wandsworth Council in south London forced Railtrack to carry out such work on four bridges in the area.


Until now it has only been illegal for "ticket touts" to sell tickets, not to buy them. That all changes under the new London laws.

Anyone caught offering to buy tickets, including those for sporting and music events, will be targeted.

It could also mean a harsher regime for people offering to buy and sell used Tube tickets at underground stations.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

What's wrong with ticket touts? If you go just five minutes after the start of the concert you get the tickets for next to nothing! You only miss the support band anyway.
Evan, UK/Dubai

Why should fly posting be made illegal when we are subjected to unwanted bill posters and gigantic advertising hoardings everywhere? We don't want to see adverts for cars or estate agents anymore than the smaller fly posters.
Dave, UK

If the government can be bothered putting so much effort into getting rid of graffiti, might they also concern themselves with the burgeoning occurrence of oversized advertising hoardings?
Benski, UK

We have had some particularly offensive graffiti at the top of our road for well over a year now. These things seem to get publicised hugely to gain public favour, and then little action ever seems to appear.
Dan, United Kingdom

Some graffiti pieces look really good. It's the "tagging" that looks bad, illegible scrawls over rubbish bins etc. We should lock up any artists that don't use less then four colours of paint.
Chris Godfrey, UK

The vast majority of teenagers are good kids who are growing up in an uncaring, materialistic world. Give them things to do and involve them in the community, then they will be less likely to treat where they live disrespectfully.
Daniel Smith, England

They've tried to push pigeons out of Trafalgar Square, they're chasing them out of our town, now they want to stop them roosting under bridges? Where are the poor things supposed to go?
Sharlene Clarke, England

For many youths, graffiti is the only way to express their creativity in the manner they know best. While I agree defacing buildings should be against the law, wouldn't it also be helpful to introduce 'graffiti allowed' zones for those disaffected youths who want to make a splash in the art world? .
Dave, Wales, UK

Why not include people who put rubbish through your letter box in Asbos. Adverts for pizzas, double glazing, mini cabs and so on constantly come through my letter box. Every time I go out I have to transfer them to the recycling bin.
Nick Bradfield, London, UK

It only takes a few little things to make living in some of the rougher areas of the country a little better. Dispersing groups of teenagers is one thing I've wanted to see for a good couple of years.
Tom, England

Graffiti is a problem in every country I have visited. What I cannot fathom out is why the tool of this crime (the aerosol paint spray) is legal and freely available. I would only sell the sprays to licensed users or include a graffiti tax on each can to pay for the cost of clean-up.
Michael Pinhorn, UK

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