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Thursday, February 18, 1999 Published at 02:38 GMT

UK Politics

Straw: Don't walk on by

Mr Straw says beating crime is not just the police's job

Home Secretary Jack Straw has called for an end to the "walk on by society", urging members of the public to take a personal stand against low-level crime.

Turning a blind eye to youngsters engaged in vandalism or crime is to shirk a shared duty to ensure that they become responsible members of society, Mr Straw said on Thursday.

Home Affairs correspondent Jane Peel weighs up the risks of getting involved
The home secretary also spoke about his own experiences of tackling offensive behaviour at personal level.

He told of how he decided to deal with a youth who was spitting on people below him from a walkway.

Jack Straw: "Dealing with crime is the responsibility of us all"
"I thought, 'You can't just stand and watch this' so I went up to him and said, 'Look, can you imagine what it's like to be walking up there and being spat on?' He gave me quite a lot of lip but after a while he calmed down."

Mr Straw acknowledged that at the time of the incident, which took place on Blackburn railway station about 10 days ago, he was being accompanied by his protection officer. But he said the officer was not with him when he confronted the youth.

Earlier Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I am not asking people to do anything I have not done myself and which lots of other people do.

"People have got to - I accept this - make their own judgements about the situation they are in."

He said he was not asking people to risk their own safety but to not ignore the peril of others.

"Obviously they must not encourage dangerous situations but in many cases it's not dangerous.

"Dealing with crime is not just the responsibility of the police, it's the responsibility of all of us," he said.

"Today, how many of us, seeing a group of 11 or 12-year-olds vandalising a phone box or picking on a younger child, would actually intervene?

"Yet if we do not, who else will?

"This is not just about young people as offenders - but as victims, too.

"If we ignore young people when they are causing trouble, we start to ignore them when they are in danger."

'Mutual responsibility'

[ image: Mr Straw has himself made several citizens arrests]
Mr Straw has himself made several citizens arrests
In his speech to a Social Market Foundation conference the home secretary did not confine himself to the need to keep youngsters on the straight and narrow.

He also argued that society's "mutual responsibility" for the maintenance of order has a further dimension, tackling the "underlying ambiguity" that he believes too many people demonstrate towards crime.

Mr Straw criticised the "moral fudge" indulged in by those who condemn burglary, but willingly buy stolen goods.

He went on: "As the saying goes, what goes around comes around.

"The person who knowingly buys a stolen video or CD player has to share the responsibility for local burglary rates with the thief who breaks into houses."

A Home Office spokesman stressed that Mr Straw is keen to get across the message that combating crime is a responsibility for the whole community, not just the police.

But he was not encouraging do-it-yourself policing.

"He is not encouraging vigilantism, nor asking people to take unnecessary risks. But we do all have a responsibility. Crime isn't just somebody else's problem," the spokesman said.

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