Definition of Anti-Social Behaviour
115. Whilst our witnesses broadly welcomed the Government's
drive to tackle anti-social behaviour, several of them raised
concerns about the lack of a clear definition of anti-social behaviour.
As the Chief Constable of South Wales police noted in her written
evidence, "there is currently no national definition of what
constitutes anti-social behaviour and no national measurement
framework that compares policing performance".
116. Whilst the legal term for
anti-social behaviour is not strictly defined, the Crime and Disorder
Act of 1998 describes the conditions that must be met to permit
action against offenders. The central condition is to demonstrate
"a relevant person acted in a manner that caused,
or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or
more people who are not of the same household as the relevant
The Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys police told us
that the definition in the 1998 Act had been generally adopted
by police forces and Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs) throughout
Wales and England, as the working definition of anti-social behaviour.
117. The Government White Paper Respect &
Responsibility - Taking a Stand against Anti-Social Behaviour
(12th March 2003) expanded on the definition in the 1998 Act,
and provided the following guidance:
"Anti-social behaviour means different things
to different people - noisy neighbours who ruin the lives
of those around them, 'crack houses' run by drug dealers, drunken
'yobs' taking over town centres, people begging by cash-points,
abandoned cars, litter and graffiti, young people using airguns
to threaten and intimidate, or people using fireworks as weapons".
118. In its written evidence to the Home Affairs
Committee's inquiry into anti-social behaviour, the Crime and
Society Foundation argued that in practice the definition of anti-social
behaviour lacked clarity and was "based on a subjective judgement
about impact rather than an objective definition of any particular
119. Louise Casey, the Director of the Anti-Social
Behaviour Unit at the Home Office, explained that initially, the
Government was keen to provide the practical tools to enable the
police and other authorities to tackle anti-social behaviour,
rather than engage in a lengthy academic exercise to define what
constituted anti-social behaviour.
However, since the legislation was now in force, the Home Office's
Anti-Social Behaviour Unit was now focusing on refining the definitions
of anti-social behaviour.
120. Hazel Blears MP, Minister of State for Crime
Reduction, Policing, Community Safety and Counter-Terrorism at
the Home Office, acknowledged the subjective approach to defining
anti-social behaviour. She argued that a victim based definition
- although innovative and controversial - was appropriate given
that anti-social behaviour meant "different things to different
However, whilst she emphasised the need for a victim based definition,
she also stated that the Government was now defining "a set
of behaviours that we then want to use an anti-social behaviour
order to prevent happening, which is a civil order rather than
a criminal prosecution".
121. The Chief Constable of South Wales police argued
that there was a need for a national definition of what constituted
anti-social behaviour. She believed that this would promote a
better understanding amongst partner agencies of each partner's
responsibilities and the role that each could play in combating
We saw successful examples of this multi agency approach, based
on a common definition of anti-social behaviour in the Belgian
town of Dendermonde and the city of Ghent. 
122. In a similar vein, the Chief
Constable of North Wales police emphasised the need for a shared
understanding between the partner agencies, communities and North
Wales police about the definition of anti-social behaviour in
a specific area, and the role that each agency would play in tackling
it. He also believed
that it was necessary to recognise the importance of local people's
involvement in deciding what aspects of behaviour were causing
them the most difficulties. He asserted that "negotiation
with communities as to how to prioritise and address local issues
must become the norm".
123. Whilst several witnesses expressed the need
for clarification around a definition of anti-social behaviour,
they also noted that the task was fraught with difficulties. In
his written evidence, Chief Constable Terence Grange of Dyfed-Powys
police stated that:
"This widespread usage of what is essentially
a non-specific description reflects the inherent difficulties
which prevent the formulation of a comprehensive and consistent
definition of what constitutes ASB, and also reflects the subjective
nature of the way in which the problem is perceived by individual
members of the public, depending upon their age, circumstances
and disposition". 
124. Kevin Wong, Assistant Director of Nacro Cymru,
argued that using anti-social behaviour as a "catch all"
term without clearly defined behaviours, only served to increase
the fear of crime.
"It [anti-social behaviour] may be something
that people can more easily understand, but it therefore fuels
that sense of concern about crime because you are lumping so many
things together. If the Government is trying to make sure that
agencies have an impact on anti-social behaviour, they should
break it down and say what those things are so that it is reducing
the number of young people causing annoyance and it is reducing
the amount of drug-dealing on the streets and reducing the level
of graffiti, because those are tangible things you can lock on
125. However, Malcolm King, Chairman of the North
Wales police authority and representing the Police Authorities
of Wales, told us that while he acknowledged the huge difficulties
in defining anti-social behaviour he believed that a clear definition
was essential because, at present, there was "a huge variation
in definition, both with the public and within the police forces,
and that makes a difference as to how we deploy resources".
126. We acknowledge the difficulties that the
Government has faced in defining anti-social behaviour. However,
we conclude that further clarity on what constitutes anti-social
behaviour is an essential requirement for the police and Community
Safety Partnerships to devise and deliver successful strategies
to tackle anti-social behaviour. Whilst we welcome the emphasis
that the Government has placed on the victim in any definition,
we recommend that it gives urgent thought to a clear workable
definition under which the police forces and their partners can
operate. We further recommend that the Government in its development
of a definition for anti-social behaviour ensures that there is
sufficient scope for local input and flexibility.
Tackling Anti-Social Behaviour:
The Welsh Approach
127. The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA)
identified the success of local authorities, the police and the
courts, in tackling anti-social behaviour in Wales and argued
that, for the most part, ASBOs in Wales had been greeted warmly
by the public, particularly by those communities who have suffered
the consequences of anti-social behaviour.
However, it argued that ASBOs should be regarded as a measure
of last resort and suggested that greater emphasis needed to be
placed on early intervention to tackle the issues which could
lead to anti-social behaviour.
That approach has been developed by the four police forces, and
their partners, in Wales.
128. South Wales police formally launched their "Anti-Social
Behaviour Framework - a Partnership Approach" - in June 2004.
The Framework is a four stage approach which is based on early
interventions, with an ASBO only being issued at the fourth stage
and as a measure of last resort.