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Last Updated: Monday, 12 December 2005, 21:20 GMT
Blair's bid to target drug crime
Case of money
Powers to recover criminals' cash could be broadened
Tony Blair said he wants to make the lives of small-time drug dealers more difficult, as he unveiled plans to claw back cash and assets from criminals.

He wants to lower from 5,000 to 1,000 the minimum amount of money or assets police can seize from criminals - even if they have not been convicted.

He also plans an extension of parenting orders to tackle nuisance behaviour.

Opposition parties complain the plans are a "gimmick" and they are worried they may not only hit drug dealers.

The prime minister has identified the lack of respect in society as a priority in his final term in power.

You cannot deal with this type of crime by ordinary methods or by ordinary court processes
Tony Blair

Mr Blair highlighted the issue on Monday ahead of next month's launch of the government's Respect Action Plan.

He said the police and other authorities needed the powers to make sure it was those causing problems, not law abiding citizens, who lived in fear.

By reducing to 1,000 the threshold for seizing cash and assets believed to have come from criminal activities or about to be used to fund crime, more people could be targeted by police.

It goes beyond just drugs crime.

The plans are controversial as suspects do not be convicted to have their assets seized and critics complain people that have to prove their money did not come from crime.

Mr Blair was asked if he was sticking to his principles on presuming innocence before suspects were proven guilty.

He told BBC News: "You cannot deal with this type of crime by ordinary methods or by ordinary court processes. I genuinely believe that. I have tried it, it doesn't work."

Anti-social behaviour

The police say it will help them focus on criminals such as small-time drug dealers.

About 1m of suspect cash is being clawed back every week and that figure could rise under the new proposals.

Broken window
Tackling yobs who blight communities is a priority

But Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis asked how the government could be sure that only drug dealers would have their money confiscated.

"There appears to be an absence of research and evaluation to justify how this will actually work," he said.

And Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, questioned how ministers would target "street corner dealers" when the Assets Recovery Agency "hasn't been hitting its targets to date".

Under new parenting orders, authorities could intervene when they suspect a child is "going off the rails", not simply after an offence has been committed.

'Action' zones

During a visit to Harlow, Essex, Mr Blair said the government's drive to stamp out anti-social behaviour was "really beginning to work" in areas where police, local authorities and residents were pulling together to tackle it.

A Home Office survey shows an increase in the use of new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour.

This involves Whitehall's Anti-Social Behaviour Unit and local agencies targeting problem hot-spots in cities across the country.

Mr Blair was visiting a Sure Start centre in Harlow, one of 60 "action" zones for anti-social behaviour, with Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Home Office Minister Hazel Blears.

Government research suggests concern about anti-social behaviour in these areas has fallen from 25% to 19% in the last two years - twice as fast as the national average.

'Problem families'

In addition, the latest British Crime Survey says the number of people perceiving anti-social behaviour as a problem in their area has fallen from one in five (21%) in 2002/3 to 17 % last year.

In 60 of these "action" areas, 941 parenting orders were issued, along with 6,456 Anti-Social Behaviour Contracts and 294 crack houses closed from October 2003 to September 2005.

But the Conservatives said anti-social behaviour in the action areas had fallen by only 1% more than areas that were not targeted, despite the millions of pounds spent on the schemes.

The Respect Action Plan will underpin a series of domestic policy announcements in the New Year.




SEE ALSO:
'Respect' key to Blair third term
17 May 05 |  UK Politics
Blair calls for better parenting
02 Sep 05 |  UK Politics
Blair's reform and respect agenda
17 May 05 |  UK Politics



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