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ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR - TAMING THE TEARAWAYS

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Having dished out more than 600 anti-social behaviour orders, Manchester City Council has taken a hard line with ju...
Having dished out more than 600 anti-social behaviour orders, Manchester City Council has taken a hard line with juveniles. But has it worked, asks Michael Lawrence

Manchester City Council is the country's anti-social behaviour order capital. The council has granted 600 ASBOs against some 430 individuals since the orders were introduced in 1999.

It accounts for nearly a sixth of the 4,000 handed out in the last five years - hundreds more than in Greater London. The council admits it has been pro-active in pursuing ASBOs as a way of tackling anti-social behaviour, but is loath to trumpet its approach as tough. Martin Lee, head of the council's nuisance strategy group which is responsible for collecting evidence and taking cases to court, says he sees ASBOs and injunctions as a way of preventing anti-social behaviour, rather than as a punishment.

'Anti-social behaviour is a blight on people's lives, whether it is loud music, abusive behaviour or intimidation. It is right that we take a strong line against it,' he says. 'But we do not see the orders as a form of enforcement - they are preventative orders. We call them a 'super-warning'.'

If this is a form of prevention, is it working? The council's own figures show 48% of ASBOs against juveniles are breached - compared with a national average of 42% - with one in 10 being broken six times or more. A Home Affairs select committee report on anti-social behaviour, published this month, highlighted breaches as a problem.

Adults do a little better with only a third breaching their orders, although evidence suggests their breaches are for more serious acts. Reports to police of criminal damage and nuisance behaviour have shown little improvement, despite the increased number of ASBOs over the years.

'The figures show ASBOs can be a useful weapon, but it is clear they do not always work,' says Simon Ashley, leader of Manchester's Liberal Democrat group. 'I think that Labour locally would much rather sound tough than be effective.'

Whatever one thinks of the merits of ASBOs, it is clear that anti-social behaviour makes residents' lives a misery. Last month a Manchester court placed a four-year ASBO on a 14-year-old girl who fought with local children and threatened their families. One family in particular was targeted - stones were thrown at the house, the front door was kicked and the two boys abused.

It is not just anti-social behaviour by children that the council has attempted to tackle. In another case, a 34-year-old man was evicted and given a three-year ASBO after threatening neighbours with a gun. His neighbours had put up with disturbances in the early hours from revving cars and parties, Oldham magistrates heard.

But Mr Ashley says he would like to see the council use so-called softer tactics, such as acceptable behaviour contracts.

'We do not always have to take the most aggressive action each time,' he says.

Only one area, in east Manchester, is piloting the contracts but Eddy Newman (Lab), the executive member for housing, remains unapologetic.

'I think most residents support the line we take on ASBOs,' he says. 'They are helping to turn around the estates and put some social glue back into society.

'But we don't rely solely on ASBOs. People tell us parents have to take responsibility and that is what we have been trying to do.'

The council has been given government funding as a trailblazer authority to engage with families prone to anti-social behaviour.

Improved parenting is a key part of Challenge Manchester, a 100-day campaign to improve behaviour by May.

Roadshows have been organised and families are leafleted with information about good parenting.

The council also uses parenting orders - court orders requiring the parents of nuisance children to attend counselling and ensure better behaviour.

Mr Newman also says schools are targeted with schemes to improve attendance. But he remains unconvinced about behaviour contracts.

'I am not opposed to them but we tend to use ASBO warning interviews, whereby a person is not actually given an ASBO but are told they must stop what they are doing,' he says.

'I am not sure contracts are taken that seriously and if they are broken then you have to start the ASBO process anyway.'

But Rachel Calam, a clinical psychologist at Manchester University who has conducted research on the causes of anti-social behaviour, says softer approaches such as contracts have a role to play.

'Manchester has taken a very particular approach to tackling the problem,' she says. 'The council has been assertive in its use of ASBOs and the breach rate is quite an achievement.'

In her research, Dr Calam identifies a number of elements which cause bad behaviour: individual factors such as cognitive problems and an impulsive nature, family factors, the neighbourhood environment, and socials factors such as peer groups.

'The causes of anti-social behaviour are complex and, therefore, the measures taken to tackle it need to be varied,' she says.

'In Manchester, we are beginning to see new approaches - parenting classes are available and schools are being targeted. These are good ways to address some of the causes.'

Find out more

>> Information on applying ASBOs and ABCs www.homeoffice.gov.uk/crime/antisocialbehaviour/orders

>> Home affairs select committee report on anti-social behaviour www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmhaff.htm

>> For more on Manchester University's research

e-mail rachel.calam@manchester.ac.uk

Police officer's view

A small minority of serial anti-social behaviour offenders are the most difficult to deal with, according to the officer responsible for co-ordinating the police response.

PC Stephen Colbert, Greater Manchester Police's ASBO liaison officer for the north, east and centre of the city, says Manchester is winning the war against nuisance behaviour through the police and council's close working relationship.

'Anti-social behaviour is a complex issue and requires a great deal of co-ordination,' PC Colbert says. But he

claims it is not always straightforward to secure a conviction against those who break the orders.

'It requires evidence, just as any other criminal case would, and as such the conviction rate is about the same as for other crimes. The reality is that some people will carry on committing offences. It is a minority of people, but they are the most difficult to deal with.'

Anti-social behaviour - the sharp end

Council worker's view

Despite the record numbers of ASBOs, Manchester City Council's Ingrid Daly believes there is room for improvement. She is the behaviour manager in Ardwick, a typically diverse but disadvantaged inner-city ward, in what the council says is the first post of its kind in the country.

In her role, she looks at how agencies work together and analyses whether the system meets residents' needs. Ms Daly says: 'I am sure there is more we can do with other agencies, such as the police and health service, and across departments.

'Addressing anti-social behaviour is about many things, [such as] housing and availability of leisure activities.'

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