Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

19. Memorandum submitted by Napo


(a)   Introduction

  Anti-social Behaviour Orders were introduced in April 1999 as part of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. It is a community based order which can be applied for by the police or local authorities in consultation with each other against an individual, or several individuals, whose behaviour is anti-social. The behaviour must cause alarm, distress or harassment to one or more people not in the same household as the offender. Applications are made to the Magistrates Court acting in a civil capacity. The court, if the order is made, can impose additional restrictions. However, controversially, breach of an order without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence tryable either way with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Home Office notes published at the time the Act was introduced state, "the prohibitions and the order must be such as are necessary to protect people from further anti-social acts by the defendant in the locality. It is intended that the order will be targeted at criminal, or sub criminal, behaviour, not minor disputes between neighbours or matters which can be dealt with effectively under existing legislation."

(b)   Orders made

  The number of orders made has escalated over the six-year period that ASBOs have been available. During the first eight months in 1999, only 104 orders were made. However, there has been a significant escalation with more than 2,600 orders made since November 2003. The Parliamentary Answers reveal that the breach rate has been 39% for 10-15-year-olds, 38% for 16-20-year-olds, and 31% for those aged over 21. However, figures are only available on numbers jailed for the years 2001 and 2002. In 2001, 114 persons breached by the courts following the imposition of an ASBO were jailed out of 322 issued. In 2002, 212 were jailed out of 403 issued. These figures would suggest that around 50% of those who are the subject of an ASBO eventually end up in jail.

(c)   Abuse of intention

  Napo believes that the original purpose of the ASBO has been abused in some areas. In many incidents, individuals are receiving a custodial sentence where the original offence was not itself imprisonable. This includes people banned from begging or prostitution. The ASBO is clearly, therefore, moving offenders up tariff and resulting in the inappropriate use of custody. ASBOs are being used against young people whose behavour may be anti-social but not necessarily threatening. It is being used to deal with nuisance which could be dealt with in other ways. There is also ample evidence that the ASBO merely moves the anti-social behaviour to a different district. There is also evidence to suggest that many of the young people involved eventually end up in Young Offender Institutions.

  In Napo's view, it is time the Home Office thoroughly reviewed the role and purpose of the ASBO and sentencing discrepancies. An individual is far more likely to be the subject of an ASBO in Greater Manchester than in Merseyside. In the first six months of 2004, 155 persons were the subject of an ASBO in Greater Manchester compared with just 27 in Merseyside. Similarly the number of individuals subject to an ASBO in West Yorkshire, during the same period, was 128 compared with just 22 in South Yorkshire. Again, during the first six months of 2004, 38 ASBOs were issued in Lancashire compared with just four in Leicestershire.

Magistrates Courts Committee/ Police Force area 1 January 2003 to31 December 2003 1 January 2004 to30 June 2004
Devon and Cornwall7 10
GLMCA/Metropolitan Police93 102
Greater Manchester189 155
South Yorkshire2822
West Midlands6839
West Yorkshire79128
North Wales118
South Wales2913
Total England and Wales ALL Magistrates Courts 958952

(d)   Case studies

  Napo has collected a number of case studies over the last 12 months which illustrate the difficulties:

      1.  Earlier this year an application was made in Manchester for an ASBO on a female prostitute. It was alleged she was causing a nuisance in Manchester by accosting men and generally causing offence. The Magistrates agreed to an ASBO. One of its conditions was that she was prohibited from carrying condoms within the given area. Unfortunately her drug clinic was within the restricted area and one of the services it provided was the provision of free condoms as part of its harm-reduction strategy. She has now breached the order, has been put on probation and is facing the possibility of prison.

      2.  An 18-year-old youth was recently made the subject of an ASBO in the same city with a condition not to congregate with three or more other youths. He was subsequently arrested for breach of his order when he was entering a local youth club on the grounds that there were more than three youths in the premises. This was a successful club with a good reputation providing a valuable service to young people locally, and on the particular evening the session scheduled for the youths was how to deal with anti-social behaviour.

      3.  Again this year, in Manchester, the Council used its powers to obtain an ASBO to stop mobile soup vans operating in the city centre. These vans provide food and assistance regularly each evening to about 100 homeless people. The Council however argued that after the vans had left there was a mess all over the place and people had complained. Probation staff argued that the same could be said about every kebab shop, pub, chip shop and off-licence in the city.

      4.  A probation officer recently visited a 20-year-old, long term, prisoner in the North East to finalise his release plan. He expressed the wish to return to his grandmother's flat two weeks hence. He had been her registered carer since he was about 12 years old. She wasn't well and needed assistance. However, the day before his release the Council obtained an ASBO on him which included a condition that he was banned from entering the estate where his grandmother lived because of previous activities in the area.

      5.  A drug addict faced jail if he was caught sleeping in the street or begging in "an earnest or humble way". Greater Manchester police obtained an ASBO against Peter Broadbent aged 36 after he pleaded guilty to rough sleeping under the Napoleonic Begging Laws. He was found under the Mancunian Way surrounded by needles and now faces up to five years jail if he breaches. During the year, another homeless man, Leonard Hockey, who begged in a non-aggressive way in Kendal's car park was ASBOed. He was later breached and jailed and died before finishing his sentence. Broadbent's ASBO prevents him from sleeping rough contrary to Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 and asking "earnestly or humbly" for money in a place to which the public have access. He is also banned from selling the Big Issue without a license.

      6.  A youth recently appeared in Court in Manchester for breach of his ASBO. The Order had been made in the youth's absence without his being able to give his side of the story (one of the main concerns about ASBOs and one that can lead to misuse). The day after the Order was made someone came to his house to "serve" it on him. This consisted of his being handed a copy of what was a fairly bulky document running to several dozen pages with no attempt to explain it or even to ascertain if he was literate enough to read it. The Order included an restriction preventing him entering a particular estate nearby and another preventing him from associating with certain others. Unfortunately, he went out before reading the Order and beached it twice that day. The next day he went out again and breached it three times by mistake as he had not read the part covering the particular restriction. He now faces possibly custody although he has never been convicted of a criminal offence.

      7.  A 40-year-old woman made over seven hundred 999 calls from various phone booths in her town over a four to five month period. The police applied for and obtained an ASBO banning her from the booths and from making 999 calls. She made a further 999 call within days of the ASBO being made and was subsequently given two weeks imprisonment.

      8.  A 26-year-old homeless beggar from Birmingham was banned from begging in various car parks in Birmingham. He breached almost immediately and was, according to his solicitor, given 24 months custody. He was discharged earlier this year having served about eight months and was breached again for returning to begging and on this occasion got three years' jail. His solicitor, therefore, says he received a total of five years' imprisonment for an offence that itself is non imprisonable.

      9.  A 50-year-old man with numerous convictions for shoplifting, clearly ill and a kleptomaniac, was banned from going into certain shops. If he entered other shops the condition of the ASBO was he told the shopkeepers of his conviction and the condition.

    10.  A teenage boy in the Oldham area has been banned from displaying the name of a gang anywhere on his body. The ASBO was issued to Damien White which banned him from the district of Sholber. The order prevents him from displaying a gang name "Mayhem" on any part of his body or publicly displaying any mark or words to identify himself with any gang or group of youths causing a criminal act or anti-social behaviour.

    11.  A 13-year-old was served an order banning him from using the word "grass" anywhere in England and Wales. (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    12.  In May 2004, a 16-year-old boy was banned from behaving in an anti-social manner at school. The five year order covers the whole of England and Wales and came as a response to his disruption of a science class (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    13.  In February 2003, a 16-year-old boy was banned from showing his tattoos, wearing a single golf glove, or wearing a balaclava in public anywhere in the country. He was also forbidden from congregating in public places in groups of more than three people. (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    14.  In July 2004, a conman convicted at Harrow Crown Court was served an ASBO which orders him "not to call on any residential premises (by way of doorbell, knocking or phone call) without the prior permission of the occupier". (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    15.  In May 2003 a 19-year-old was banned from entering his own home on his release from prison. (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    16.  In December 2003 a 19-year-old convicted of graffiti damage to a tube depot was served an order banning him from carrying any graffiti related materials for a period of five years. He was also banned, over this time, from associating with any of those he committed the original offence with. (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    17.  In October 2004, a profoundly deaf girl was served an order for spitting in public. Having broken it she is currently in prison on remand. (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    18.  In September 2004, on the same day as he was released from prison, a 21-year-old found himself back in court being served with an interim order which banned him from entering any car park in England and Wales, touching any car without the owners permission, and riding a bicycle. On the full application hearing, the Council also managed to have him banned from wearing all forms of headwear in public. (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    19.  The oldest recipient of an order to date is an 87-year-old who among other things is forbidden from being sarcastic to his neighbours (July 2003). He was subsequently found guilty of breaking the terms of his order on three separate occasions. He awaits sentencing but the judge has already made it clear that "there will be no prison for an 88 year old man". (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    20.  In July 2004, a 15-year-old from Surrey received an order banning him from drawing graffiti anywhere in England and Wales or to be in a public place with spray paint, marker pens, etching materials or any other articles related to the practice of graffiti. (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    21.  In August 2004, a 57-year-old homeless alcoholic was banned from carrying or consuming alcohol in a public place and entering licensed premises. Unsurprisingly he breached the order within two weeks. (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    22.  Again in August 2004, 47-year-old was banned from buying or consuming alcohol anywhere in England and Wales. Having breached it he was sentenced to eight months in prison but walked free because of the time spent on remand. (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    23.  In July 2004, a 51-year-old was served with an order, and has since breached, banning him from consuming or being under the influence of alcohol in any public place on Merseyside and using abusive or insulting language. (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    24.  In October 2004, a 15-year-old was served an order for playing football in the street. (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    25.  In October 2004, two brothers aged 10 and 11 were banned from, among other things, congregating in a group of more than two people, riding as a driver or passenger on a motorcycle, setting foot on any school premises unless attending a lesson and entering any domestic or commercial property without consent of the owner. (Source—Statewatch ASBOwatch)

    26.  In December, Brian Hagan from Norfolk became the first farmer to be the subject of an ASBO when he was ordered to keep his swine and geese under control after people living near to his farm complained of damage. The order was made on Monday of the week beginning 13 December, but on Tuesday he was charged with allegedly breaching the order after reports that his pigs had escaped again. A breach of the order could lead to up to five years in jail.

    27.  A 26-year-old West Lothian man has been made the subject of an ASBO after playing the Band Aid single "Do they know it's Christmas" dozens of times daily to the annoyance of neighbours. He has been banned from "playing loud music, stamping his feet and dropping objects." (Source—BBC News)

BBC News)

    29.  The endless blazing rows of a couple in Blackburn led to their being made the subject of an ASBO barring them from contacting each other. The 47-year-old man was additionally ordered not to go within 50m of his fiancé's home. He argued this was completely over the top and Blackburn magistrates eventually backed down and overturned the order. (Source—BBC News)

    30.  A West Midlands woman was the subject of an ASBO banning her from using a pay as you go mobile, using a mobile phone that is not in her name, or using a mobile to make nuisance calls for five years after she tried to convince the parents of a former school friend that their daughter had been kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Police said an investigation into the kidnapping allegations had used 640 hours of police time before the young woman was tracked down. (Source—BBC News)

    31.  A 43-year-old Port Talbot woman was also made the subject of an ASBO after making 765 nuisance calls to the emergency services in less than a year. On one occasion she complained she was having difficulty tuning in her television. She received an interim ban stopping her from calling the emergency services unless there really is a crisis. (Source—BBC News)

    32.  A 17-year-old Birmingham youth as been banned from travelling on the top deck of buses. The conditions of his ASBO are that he cannot travel on a bus unless he sits where the driver and other passengers can see him. (Source—BBC News)

    33.  A 17-year-old from Oldham has been banned from using the word "grass" as a term of abuse against people who "stood up to him" and from other abusive language and throwing missiles. (Source—BBC News)

    34.  In Harrogate, police wanted to ban persistent criminals from entering the town. They asked magistrates to consider an ASBO preventing known offenders for crimes like burglary from setting foot in the town. (Source—BBC News)

(e)  Conclusion

  The number of anti-social behaviour orders has escalated markedly since November 2003. There is ample evidence of the issuing of ASBOs by the courts being inconsistent and almost a geographical lottery. There is great concern that people are being jailed following the breach of an ASBO where the original offence was itself non-imprisonable. There is also evidence that ASBOs have been used where people have mental health problems where treatment would be more appropriate. In Napo's view the time is right for a fundamental review of the use and appropriateness of Anti-social Behaviour Orders by the Home Office.

31 January 2005

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