The people who have ASBOs to thank for
Antisocial behaviour orders must be used more
frequently to improve the quality of life in Scotland, ministers said
yesterday. Two years after the Scottish Executive extended the range and
scope of ASBOs to give the authorities greater power to tackle
antisocial behaviour, many areas are still not taking full advantage of
Basic antisocial behaviour orders have been around for
seven years but the 2004 Anti-Social Behaviour Act extended the scope of
ASBOs to cover young teenagers (12-15) for the first time and allow
courts to impose ASBOs as part of a sentence. The act also introduced
new measures for councils and the police, including police dispersal
orders, fixed penalty notices for litter and antisocial behaviour and
closure orders for domestic premises. However, since the Act came into
force, only six ASBOs have been handed down to the under-16s and 65
ASBOs have been awarded alongside convictions. This compares to the 200
ordinary ASBOs handed out in 2004-5 alone.
Cathy Jamieson, the justice minister, and her deputy,
Hugh Henry, yesterday hosted an event to mark the second anniversary of
the act. Mr Henry, the minister for antisocial behaviour, said: "We want
the areas that are not using these powers, to use them. If it can work
in one part of the country it can work in another. "It's evident that
there are still parts of the country where the powers are not being used
to the full extent. They can make a difference. We want people to know
the powers are there."
So has the Executive's decision to extend the range
and scope of ASBOs and give the authorities greater power to tackle
antisocial behaviour actually made the streets safer? The act certainly
made a difference to David Murray, who had already endured an
astonishing catalogue of abuse. Nuisance neighbours had put a hosepipe
down his chimney and flooded his sitting room. He had also been
threatened, intimidated and kept awake at night. The 60-year-old's crime
was to have complained about his neighbours in the area of Brechin where
he lives, but nothing had been done to help him. The breaking point came
when youths deliberately poisoned his fish pond, killing £5,000 worth of
koi carp. Then, with help of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, action was
taken. The council caught the people responsible while they tried to
flood Mr Murray's sitting room for a second time and they were
But the new act has not been without its critics. Some
experts have warned that ASBOs are counter-productive because they are
viewed as "badges of honour" by some . Edinburgh antisocial behaviour
campaigner Betty Watson, 65, warns that ASBOs can be particularly
ineffective with persistent offenders.
Some police officers were sceptical about dispersal
orders when they were first proposed because they feared they would
simply displace problems to other areas. Opposition politicians also
believed the Executive was guilty of trying to appear to take action for
political purposes, when the existing laws were strong enough to deal
with antisocial behaviour, as long as they were enforced properly.
Sheila Gilmore, a Labour councillor in Edinburgh said
one of the reasons the act had been so infrequently used was because the
rules on under-16 ASBOs are so restrictive, it is very difficult to get
them approved. She said: "The way the legislation has been framed means
you are required to sign up the backing of children's services, social
work and the children's reporter's office to get an ASBO for an
under-16. Also, there are a lot of professionals who do not believe they
should be used on the under-16s in the first place so are reluctant to
However, as far as the police are concerned, their
experience on the ground does seem to have been positive. Superintendent
Campbell Corrigan, the sub-divisional officer for the West End of
Glasgow, said there had been fears of displacing the problem to
elsewhere, but this did not seem to have happened. He said: "It's been a
success. I am not naive enough to think it's the only thing we need to
do. As we get towards the end of it, we need to look at it long-term. I
will consider whether we need to reinstate it."
Helen Eadie, the Labour MSP for Dunfermline East, is
one of the many, however, who have come up against virulent antisocial
behaviour which has been unaffected by the new laws. Ms Eadie's car was
attacked by a marauding group of children as young as 12; she was
intimidated and abused. She said the Executive had done all it could and
she too blamed the authorities for not implementing the new powers. "At
the moment, the powers are not being used," she said. "My constituents
feel they are not getting the protection they need to go about their
Jack McConnell, the First Minister, clearly sees
tackling antisocial behaviour as central to his re-election plans. He
believes that if he can persuade the people that they are safer, with a
greater recourse to the law than before, then he will deserve - and
receive - their votes. For the few who have managed to get the
authorities to take action, the new laws have made a big and positive
difference and they will undoubtedly appreciate Mr McConnell's efforts.
There are many others, however, who are still having to cope with
intimidation and abuse and who have received no respite from the new
Questions and answers
- Q: What is an ASBO?
A: An ASBO is an antisocial behaviour order, made against a
person who has been shown to have caused alarm, harassment or distress
to others. ASBOs are issued when the courts believe they are necessary
to protect the public from further antisocial acts.
- Q: How are ASBOs issued?
A: ASBOs are issued by sheriff courts in Scotland following
action by local authorities. They are civil orders, but anyone
breaching them is guilty of a criminal offence and can be prosecuted.
Although they are civil orders, the behaviour of the perpetrator must
be proved to be to a criminal standard.
- Q: What happens if an ASBO is breached?
A: The offender is liable for criminal prosecution, resulting,
if guilty, in a fine of up to £5,000 or up to five years in prison.
- Q: Who can get an ASBO?
A: When the first law was passed in 1998, ASBOs could only be issued
against adults. The Anti-Social Behaviour Act of 2004 extended them to
12-15 year olds, but only after the approval of authorities, including
social workers and the children's reporter. Their effect has been
wide-ranging. A cockerel in the Borders was threatened with an ASBO
earlier this year but that was thrown out by a sheriff. In England, a
woman was given an ASBO to prevent her jumping into rivers, railways
and canals. This is because she was putting the emergency services in
danger when they came to rescue her.
- Q: What sort of behaviour can result in an
A: Typical sorts of behaviour include vandalism, theft, abusive
behaviour, begging, harassment, flyposting, or organising raves.
However, a typical factor in an ASBO is repeated offences which alone
might be considered minor. For example, swearing at a neighbour in
itself is likely to be considered a minor infraction; but when it
happens daily over many months it becomes harassment.
- Q: How many ASBOs have been issued in
A: The figures for 2004-5 show that 200 were handed down by the
courts and this was a 60 per cent rise on the previous year. The
number of under-16s hit by ASBOs is much smaller, however, with just
six granted in the two years since the law was changed.
- Q: What do people feel about ASBOs?
A: They are generally very popular. A MORI opinion poll
published last year found that 82 per cent of the British public were
in favour of ASBOs, however only 39 per cent believed they were
effective in their current form.
- Q: What do opponents say?
A: Some critics argue that it criminalises behaviour that is
otherwise lawful. Other parties have voiced concerns about the
open-ended nature of ASBO penalties - that is, there is little
restriction on what a court may impose as the terms of the ASBO, and
little restriction on what can be designated as antisocial behaviour.
There have also been fears that some offenders try to get them,
wearing them like "a badge of honour" instead of seeing them as a
- Local efforts paid off when her estate became
overrun with rowdy teenagers, Betty Watson, from Edinburgh, decided to
take the law into her own hands. For more than five years, the
65-year-old pensioner has been campaigning to integrate young boys and
girls on the Broomhouse Estate, firmly convinced that only stopping
teenagers engaging in petty crime can put an end to anti-social
behaviour. Her tireless efforts to reach out to unruly children earned
her an MBE last year, but Mrs Watson believes antisocial behaviour
orders may not always be the answer to teenage crime. "ASBOs are not
always the solution. It depends on how far down the line you're going
to hit the boys and girls, she said. If they are habitual offenders
it's quite difficult to hit them with an ASBO stick. I've had problems
in the past. I remember one of the teenagers on the estate would phone
the fire brigade all the time, making false calls. That person was
served an ASBO, around the time when ASBOs first came in force. Then,
I have a feeling the youth was caught phoning the fire brigade again.
In the end it was the police who got involved and sorted the matter
out." The pensioner said Broomhouse Estate has been transformed from a
wasteland into a peaceful community thanks to the concerted efforts of
- Evidence led to ban from Mall
Shopping centre managers are used to youths hanging around their
malls, but occasionally someone comes along who is such a menace that
extra action needs to be taken.This was the situation that confronted
Neil Fincham, 55, manager of the West Side Plaza in Edinburgh's Wester
Hailes. He said: "There was one particular individual who was barred
from the centre, but he continued to try to flout the ban. He would
continually try to come in to steal. When we confronted him, he was
abusive and threatening." Mr Fincham was advised that he might be able
to get an anti-social behaviour order imposed on that individual, but
no commercial ASBO had ever been issued in Scotland before. The
manager recorded all the problems he had with the individual until he
had enough evidence for the council to take action, and the first
commercial ASBO in Scotland was issued, barring the person from the
centre and the surrounding area. Mr Fincham explained that, unlike the
centre's own ban, the ASBO is backed up by the force of law. "Breaking
the conditions of an ASBO is a criminal offence. He can be arrested on
the spot, taken to court and given a £5,000 fine or five years in
prison," he said.
- Noisy neighbour silenced
For Raylene Anderson the problem with her noisy neighbour could
not have come at a worse time. Ms Anderson, 37, had just returned to
her home near Easter Road in Edinburgh at the end of last year after
giving birth to her second daughter, when a neighbour started playing
loud music at all hours of the day and night, banging on the walls and
shouting obscenities. "What little sleep I had with a newborn baby, he
deprived me of that she said yesterday. And she added: I have never
felt so upset, so frustrated. That noise, combined with the baby when
I returned to work, was appalling. Some nights I didn't get any sleep
at all and had to cope at work." Ms Anderson contacted Edinburgh City
Council and the police, and the council sent an antisocial behaviour
team to assess the problem. The 47-year-old noisy neighbour then
attacked the council officers. The culprit was issued with an interim
order in May this year and a full antisocial behaviour order, barring
him from making noise in the Albion Place tenement flats, in July.
"That did make a difference. What I think is good is that, when you
are really down, you can believe there is light at the end of the
tunnel; that's what happened to me," she said.
Hamish MacDonell and Aura Sabadus
10 November 2006