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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 July 2007, 07:04 GMT 08:04 UK
Yobs 'making towns no-go areas'
Different areas use different measures for anti-social behaviour
Drunken yobs behaving "like occupying armies" are turning town centres into no-go areas after dark, the chairman of an influential committee of MPs says.

Conservative MP Edward Leigh said anti-social behaviour in England and Wales was costing 3.4bn a year.

The public accounts committee said the Home Office had not researched which anti-social behaviour measures brought in since 1997 were most effective.

But the government said tackling the problem remained "a top priority".

Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said: "We have equipped local authorities, the police and other agencies with unprecedented tools and powers to deal with perpetrators.

The department should pull itself together
Edward Leigh
Public Accounts Committee

"The recent Local Government User Satisfaction Survey shows that in 94% of local authority areas the public's perception of anti-social behaviour fell significantly between 2003/4 and 2005/6.

"But we are not complacent and will study the report closely."

However, the Tories said Labour had ignored the problems behind anti-social behaviour.

Speaking as the committee's report on tackling anti-social behaviour was published, Mr Leigh said anti-social behaviour after dark ranged from "drunken skylarking and intimidation to out-and-out criminal activity".

He said the Home Office "has not done any work nationwide to find out which ones work best" among the "barrage" of measures available.

"We need to try to head off a new generation of persistent offenders by directing appropriate support at families whose youngsters are at risk of falling into anti-social behaviour," Mr Leigh said.

The committee had questioned the Home Office and its Respect Taskforce about 893 cases of anti-social behaviour interventions reviewed by the National Audit Office.

Persistent offenders

The committee criticised the Home Office for not assessing what methods worked well on which groups of offenders.

For example, the National Audit Office found that "a simple and cheap warning letter" often deterred further bad behaviour "for many tearaways".

But for "a hard-core of persistent offenders...Asbos [are] part and parcel of its way of life and to be shrugged off accordingly".

"Enforcement action against these people must be absolutely rigorous and, where they persist in their breaches of orders, there should be no hesitation in bringing prosecutions, cases should also be considered for referral to the Crown Court which can impose custodial sentences," the committee said.

Saying "the department should pull itself together", it also criticised the Home Office for providing "duff information" to the National Audit Office about perceptions around the country of anti-social behaviour.

The committee said perceptions varied by gender, area and age, with people most likely to perceive high levels in areas of greatest social deprivation.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said: "This failure comes about because Labour's approach has been to get the headline and ignore the problem.

"They go on about the record number of Asbos given out whilst ignoring the fact that nearly two-thirds are breached."

Ian Davidson MP on anti-social behaviour

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