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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 16:02 GMT
Blunkett targets yob culture
David Blunkett
Blunkett visits a south London housing estate on Wednesday
Hooligans as young as 16 will face fines of up to 80 as part of Home Secretary David Blunkett's attempts to outlaw anti-social behaviour.

"Crack houses", where Class A drugs are used and sold, will be shut down within 48 hours, and sealed for three months to prevent dealers moving back.

Airguns and replicas will be banned from public places and illegal possession or use of a firearm will be punished by a five-year minimum jail sentence.

Mr Blunkett, who unveiled the measures in a Commons statement, admitted that "a yobbish minority" could make "the lives of hard-working citizens a living hell".

Critics of the changes say they risk demonising children and argue new measures against begging are unjust.

David Blunkett
There is no need to beg in this country
David Blunkett

He also outlined plans to withdraw benefits from noisy neighbours.

Mr Blunkett said: "It's time to stop thinking of anti-social behaviour as something that we can just ignore.

"Anti-social behaviour blights people's lives, destroys families and ruins communities.

"It is not about waving a magic wand - it is about giving people the tools they need to claim back their communities for the decent law-abiding majority."

Highlighting the crime wave that follows drug addiction, the home secretary revealed plans to close down drug dens within 48 hours.

"They will be sealed for three months so the dealers cannot simply move back," he said.

Local councils and environmental health officers will be given more powers to tackle noisy neighbours with fines, and to close down pubs and clubs that "shatter the peace of communities".

HAVE YOUR SAY
Blunkett is only attempting to tackle the symptoms of a wider social problem
David, England

While chances of being a victim of crime were at their "lowest for 20 years", Mr Blunkett admitted "it doesn't always feel like that".

"I know that frightening gangs on street corners, neighbours from hell, tearaway children and drug pushers are the very things which make us feel uneasy and unsafe," he said.

'Tackling this scourge'

He stressed: "For too long some of our public services have shrugged their shoulders at this low-level thuggery and said it's somebody else's responsibility. It's not.

"We all need to play a part in tackling this scourge.

"People cannot continue to expect something for nothing - they must realise rights in our communities can only come when they take responsibility for their actions and neighbourhood."

Crack cocaine
Crack houses will be closed down in 48 hours
Beggars will be given criminal records - although begging is already an offence - and fixed penalty notices would also be used to cover truancy, criminal damage or even cycling on the pavement.

Earlier Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "Nobody needs to beg in this country.

"There will be accommodation for them if they want, there are benefits available to them, even if they have not got a fixed abode."

But Shaks Ghosh, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, said beggars needed help, not punishment.

"Dragging them through the criminal justice system will only hold them back from reintegrating into society," he told Today.

'Too negative'

Plans to dock the child benefit of persistent offenders and truants have been dropped.

But the package has still come in for criticism.

Cathy Evans, from the Children's Society, said: "We are very concerned at the prospect of creating more ways, more reasons to punish children and to demonise children."

What was instead needed was more activities to stop children getting bored and turning to trouble, she said.

That call for more youth schemes was echoed by Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes.

He argued the focus should be on making existing measures work properly.

He highlighted locally based schemes in his own constituency of North Southwark and Bermondsey.

Harry Fletcher, of probation officers' union Napo, said an "army" of community support officers would be needed to enforce the plans.




WATCH AND LISTEN
UK Home Secretary, David Blunkett
"The whole tenor...is to say that we are in this together"



SEE ALSO:
Test bed for the Blunkett plan
12 Mar 03 |  England
Begging 'to be outlawed'
07 Mar 03 |  UK
Crackdown on begging
30 Aug 02 |  England
Police praise 'spot fine' trial
16 Sep 02 |  England


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