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The BBC's Reeta Chakraparti
"The overall message is to get tough in the name of public opinion"
 real 56k

Friday, 19 January, 2001, 14:27 GMT
New police powers unveiled
yobs
Yob culture is to be targeted with fixed penalty fines
Home Secretary Jack Straw has unveiled a raft of measures aimed at tackling anti-social behaviour in his new Criminal Justice and Police Bill.

The bill also contains provisions to extend the UK's DNA database and to introduce witness protection in cases of anti-social behaviour - moves that were greeted with alarm by civil liberty groups.


These are alarming and ill conceived measures

Liberty spokesman
Fixed penalty fines are to be introduced for offences ranging from making bogus 999 calls to being drunk and abusive.

The move is part of a range of measures targeting "yob culture", announced in the draft Criminal Justice and Police Bill on Friday.

On-the-spot fines

Under the draft Criminal Justice and Police Bill, police will be able to apply the fixed penalty fines in eight different categories of offence - although the size of the fine was not disclosed.

The offences include being drunk and disorderly, damaging property and buying alcohol for under 18s.

Details in the bill show that the on-the-spot fines will be imposed by uniformed officers on over-18s only.

Under-age drinking is also to be targeted in a measure that will force bar staff to ask for proof of age from people who appear too young to drink.

It will also be an offence for bar staff to sell alcohol to drunk or disorderly customers - rather than it being an offence for the licensee only.

The bill will also provide for a huge expansion in the national DNA database allowing for legally taken samples to be stored indefinitely - even if they were acquired during a mass DNA test of volunteers such as in a murder investigation.

'Ill conceived'

A spokesman for the civil rights group Liberty branded the bill as a "steady extension of police powers".

He said: "These are alarming and ill conceived measures. It highlights the hazard of 'tough on crime' pre-election posturing."

The government should rather provide extra police and target resources aimed at preventing children from getting involved with crime, he added.

Mr Straw said the expansion of the authorities' right to retain DNA samples would be welcomed by the public.

"The public are more worried about the arrest and conviction of very serious criminals and persistent offenders through the use of this kind of evidence," he said.

Fingerprints kept

Under the bill, DNA samples, and also fingerprints, will be retained even after suspects are acquitted or if no case is brought by the police.

Currently samples must be destroyed if a suspect is not charged or not convicted by a court.

As to whether there was now a case to introduce routine DNA testing on the wider population, Mr Straw said: "We have to proceed proportionately in this area."

Jack Straw
Determined to crackdown on "yob culture"
The new DNA powers were welcomed by the Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire, Ben Gunn, who is the Association of Chief Police Officers' forensic science spokesman.

Mr Gunn told BBC News Online: "While DNA can help to prove guilt, it can also prove someone's innocence. It has been used to clear individuals who, for whatever reason, have been accused of serious crimes."

Video pilot scheme He said there were around three million "active criminals" in the UK and it would have taken about 14 years to put them all on the database, had this step not been taken.

Under the proposed legislation there will also be provision for a pilot scheme to video police interviews.

The witness protection measure is designed to reduce witness intimidation in cases such as anti-social behaviour orders, which the Home Office conceded had been far less successful than had first been hoped.

Conservative home affairs spokeswoman Ann Widdecombe attacked the bill saying it was "ludicrous to load the police with more initiatives when they had fewer officers".

Headline grabbers?

"It is little more than an attempt to grab the headlines with spot-fine and curfew powers that will over-burden police forces even more when they are already at breaking point."

For the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes said: "This bill is New Labour's typical mixture of useful reform and simplistic gimmickry."

Other measures include:

  • Police powers to close disorderly clubs and pubs for up to 24 hours without notice

  • Allowing police and trading standard officers to use under 18s in "sting" operations on pubs and clubs suspected of selling to under-age drinkers

  • Police powers to ban drinking in certain public areas

  • Extending child curfews from 10 to 15-year-olds

  • Allowing courts to confiscate the passports of convicted drug traffickers where jail sentences of four years or more are imposed

  • Granting customs officers stronger powers to deal with importers of child pornography by designating the crime a serious arrestable offence.

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