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The Home Secretary, Jack Straw
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The BBC's Rory Maclean
"Some councils are already using anti-social behaviour orders"
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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Straw urges crackdown on louts
Housing estate
Anti-social behaviour is rising, a recent report suggests
Home Secretary Jack Straw has told councils in England and Wales to make more use of new powers to crack down on loutish behaviour and nuisance neighbours to help communities "run ragged" by anti-social behaviour.

Speaking to the local government conference in Bournemouth, he urged councils and the police to increase the use of special court orders which threaten louts and nuisance neighbours with jail sentences, even if their actions fall short of full-blown criminal behaviour.

Anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) came into force last year and have been widely promoted by the government as part of its crackdown on young offenders, but few councils have used them.

I hope and expect this will help those communities run ragged by the anti-social behaviour of a minority

Jack Straw

In the 14 months in which local authorities in England and Wales have been able to use ASBOs, just 80 orders have been issued.

Mr Straw told the conference he wanted councils and police to make more use of the powers, and interpret "anti-social behaviour" more widely.

The orders "should be used swiftly where circumstances demand it, not just against the very hard cases of unacceptable behaviour," he said.

A recent report from the government's social exclusion unit suggests that anti-social behaviour is on the rise.

Mr Straw said this was one reason why the orders should be used to "combat a gradual decline in the standards of public behaviour and order."

Prison sentences

The legislation allows the courts to threaten offenders with prison sentences if they fail to stick to behaviour orders which can involve curfews.

It also means councils can seek the eviction of council tenants if they do not agree to end anti-social behaviour such as intimidation, vandalism or harassment of neighbours.

In a recent case, two families whose children roamed wild and terrorised neighbours are being evicted from their homes.

A dossier of complaints was built up against the children culminating in Leeds City Council's decision to have them evicted.

Human rights concerns

The human rights group Liberty has raised concerns about use of the orders.

It objects to the fact that criminal penalities, including jail sentences, are attached to the orders if they are broken even though only civil standards of proof are required for them to be issued in the first place.

The Home Secretary acknowledges that the orders are designed to deal with "low-level" offenders, but insists that the powers were designed to safeguard the rights of the peaceful majority.

"We are trying to shift the balance of fairness in favour of law-abiding residents who simply want to get on with their lives and be decent to their neighbours and not wreck their neighbours' lives," he told the BBC.

He told councillors that "loutish and aggressive public behaviour, running on an undercurrent of drugs, alcohol or violence, can, if left unchecked, blight whole neighbourhoods.

"I hope and expect [these orders] will help those communities run ragged by the anti-social behaviour of a minority," he said.

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