Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) were introduced in April 1999 under the guise of combating ‘yob’ culture and preventing domestic crime and disorder. In reality, along with the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, ASBOs are a means of repressing the working class, especially the youth. Heather Keating and Louis Brehony report.

Charles Clarke is currently pushing for yet more draconian policing to make ‘naming and shaming’ the rule rather than the exception and boasted: ‘Your photo could be all over the local media, your local community will know who you are, and breaching an ASBO could land you in prison’. Under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 the press already has the power to picture and name those charged, which it has done without hesitation. Children as young as ten have received ASBOs. Police can threaten young people congregating in the street with an ASBO if they refuse to disperse, and do not have to prove their allegations.

The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 also gives the police powers to charge people with on-the-spot fines for loosely defined ‘offences’ such as ‘wasting police time’, ‘sending a false message’ and ‘consumption of alcohol in public’ – all £80. Prostitutes, beggars, and travelling communities are also targets for police harassment. The government is now trying to give the police and local councils the power to impose ASBOs on people that receive three fines.

Since they were introduced nearly 4,000 ASBOs have been imposed. From October 2003 to October 2004 2,600 orders were issued – twice as many as in the previous four years.

The statistics show a high concentration of ASBO charges in poor areas. In Manchester, where 40% of the population is ‘economically inactive’ – ie not working nor registered as unemployed – the Labour council has enthusiastically jumped at the chance to further oppress the city’s poor. Manchester has issued more ASBOs than anywhere else, making it one of the government’s ‘trailblazer’ areas for attacking ‘anti-social behaviour’; Manchester City Council has issued the highest number of ASBOs since they were introduced, with 509 served between April 1999 and June 2004 – nearly double the number for Greater London. Manchester Labour Councillor Eddie Newman defended the council’s record by claiming ASBOs are ‘a preventative measure to lay down in clear terms what is unacceptable behaviour.’ This comes from a council that has obtained ASBOs against beggars, homeless people, and even charity soup vans. It is not surprising that areas where anti-social behaviour is high are deprived areas such as Gorton in Manchester. Gorton is full of run-down estates with no facilities for children or young people. Having neglected such areas for years, the state now punishes the very behaviour that inevitably results from deprivation. West Yorkshire, the West Midlands and Merseyside are all high on the list of ‘offending’ areas.

The Home Office is putting £1.25m into 50 ‘anti-social behaviour action areas’ and to promote eviction of ‘chaotic families.’ Lisa Hindle of Cheetham was evicted because her partner and son received ASBOs and the council considered her responsible for their behaviour. A woman who has repeatedly tried to take her own life has received an ASBO banning her from rivers, railways, bridges etc and will face a jail sentence if she breaches it. An 18-year-old man from Fife was served with an ASBO for playing loud music. He is prohibited from going home for three months, essentially making him homeless. Minister Hazel Blears said that ‘many families are facing eviction. We don’t want them to be evicted, we want them to change their behaviour’.

Some ASBOs are clearly racist., as in the case of a Yemeni woman from Leeds who has been suffering racism for five years from her community and whose son has constantly been stopped in his car by the police. The woman complained about police discrimination and has now been threatened with an ASBO and also with an eviction warning for causing ‘alarm and distress’ to the community – for complaining! Her son has also been threatened with an ASBO for dangerous driving.

10-15 year olds are most likely to breach ASBOs, with 39% of orders being broken. 38% of 16-20 year olds and 31% of people over 21 breach their orders. The probation union Napo reported recently that 50% of those who are served with an ASBO end up in prison, many for an offence that would not have originally warranted a prison term. The Napo report highlighted ‘abuse of ASBO powers’, such as the case of a Manchester prostitute who was served with an ASBO for being a nuisance to the community and as part of her ASBO terms was banned from a certain area and prohibited from carrying condoms. The woman’s drug clinic was in the forbidden area and she has breached her order by attending and is now facing a possible prison sentence.

ASBOs and the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 have also been used against activists and political protesters. In addition to those mentioned in our last issue (see FRFI 183) a man from Moston has since been threatened with an order for handing out ‘Victory to the Iraqi resistance’ leaflets on his estate, and also for putting a leaflet on the door of his own flat! Here the political character of ASBOs is as clear as day – in firm support of those in power and with contempt for those who oppose them.

FRFI 184 April / May 2005


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