Drunken yobs 'invading' town centres

Minister insists ASB is a 'priority'
Minister insists ASB is a 'priority'

The Home Office has said combating anti-social behaviour continues to be a priority, after an influential committee of MPs said 'drunken yobs' were turning town centres into no-go areas.

The Commons public accounts committee (PAC) said anti-social youngsters were "behaving like an occupying army" and bringing "misery and despair" to communities.

Despite introducing a "barrage" of measures designed to combat anti-social behaviour since 1997, PAC said the Home Office had failed to pause and evaluate which method was most effective.

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said the Home Office needed to remember anti-social behaviour ranges from "drunken skylarking and intimidation to out and out criminal activity".

Mr Leigh said: "The National Audit Office found evidence that, for many tearaways, a simple and cheap warning letter was enough to deter further bad behaviour.

"But the government has not collected any information on the effectiveness of different measures on different groups of offenders.

"Enforcement action against these people must be absolutely rigorous and, where they persist in their breaches of orders, there should be no hesitation in bringing prosecutions."

Mr Leigh concluded by calling on the Home Office to "pull itself together", pointing to a number of occasions when the department has provided "duff information".

Home Office minister Tony McNulty defended the department's record, insisting the government continues to view anti-social behaviour as a priority.

Mr McNulty said: "We have equipped local authorities, the police and other agencies with unprecedented tools and powers to deal with perpetrators.

"We are pleased that the earlier NAO report found that our interventions work, with 65 per cent of people changing their anti-social behaviour after one intervention."

He added the government recognised the importance of sharing best practice across the country and said it would work towards a consistent approach.

Mr McNulty explained the Home Office is currently focusing on targeting support at the most at-risk families, aiming to prevent a cycle of anti-social problems.

The Liberal Democrats had accused the government of failing to offer people enough support when cracking down on anti-social behaviour.

Annett Brooke, Lib Dem children's spokesperson, argued Asbos should only be used as a last resort. Instead, offenders should be offered acceptable behaviour contracts (ABC) and supportive measures like individual support orders (ISO).

Ms Brooke said: "Asbos cost up to £10,000 each, and yet 55 per cent of those in receipt of them engage in further anti-social behaviour.

"They should always be supported by a package of measures to address the perpetrators behaviour. However, other measures such as ABCs must always be taken first."

Shadow home secretary David Davis said Labour had been too focused with chasing headlines and had failed to really address the problem.

Claims to be dispatching a record number of asbos are irrelevant if two-thirds of them are being breached, he argued.


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