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Mixed reaction in Norwich to new government proposals announced by home secretary Theresa May aimed at dealing with anti-social behaviour

PUBLISHED: 09:38 23 May 2012

Tackling the problem of vandalism and anti-social behabviour. (Posed by a model).

Tackling the problem of vandalism and anti-social behabviour. (Posed by a model).

New plans announced by the government to make it easier to stop nuisance and anti-social behaviour blighting the lives of communities have been met with a lukewarm response in Norwich.

Home Secretary Theresa May yesterday outlined the new measures, which includes axing Asbos, They could also see the introduction of a ‘community trigger’ to force police to investigate repeated complaints, which Ms May says will make it quicker and easier to stop anti-social behaviour.

She said she wanted to stop repeat victims suffering unnoticed by giving communities and residents the power to make the police take action.

Forces will be required to investigate any incident reported by at least five people, or any three separate complaints by the same person.

It is part of a package of measures, which will see the number of different orders cut from 19 to six, and will also signal the end of the road for anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) – introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 1998, and often described by critics as a badge of honour among anti-social youths.

But while the measures have been hailed as a silver bullet by the government, communities in Norwich have been much more cautious, with some even questioning whether they are needed at all.

Stephen Bett, chairman of the Norfolk Police Authority and a prospective candidate for Norfolk’s first police and crime commissioner (PCC), which will replace police authorities in November, said there was no need to change the way anti-social behaviour was being tackled in Norfolk.

Between April 2011 and March 2012 the county has seen a 24pc reduction in anti-social behaviour.

Mr Bett, pictured below left, said: “Whatever the government says, we can say what we’ve been doing in Norfolk has been very successful.

“A lot of it is to do with the Safer Schools Partnership with Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) in schools.

“Anti-social behaviour in Norfolk has gone down 24pc this year. I think it shows we’re doing the right thing. We’ve been very successful and I would want to keep it the way we’re doing things. The figures speak for themselves. I heard Theresa May this morning and she was not talking about Norfolk.”

It was a message mirrored by Simon Woodbridge, pictured below right, former leader of Broadland District Council and Broadland’s member champion for crime reduction and community safety, who is also put himself forward as a PCC candidate.

He said: “I fully respect what the government is trying to do and its trying to offer the tools necessary to get to grips with anti-social behaviour but I would argue that Norfolk has been working in a very refined way for quite some time now, which is why you see the levels in Norfolk being quite low.”

Mr Woodbridge said there might be other parts of the country which would welcome reform and a new way of looking at tackling antisocial behaviour, but not Norfolk, where Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs) work closely with local authorities and communities to deal with issues.

He added: “We’ve got all the tools in place to manage anti-social behaviour in a very intellectually precise way. We can be very proud of how we react to things.”

Steven Ford, clerk of Thorpe St Andrew Town Council, which in September last year issued an appeal for witnesses after yobs torched a £500 bench at the Laundry Lane Recreation Ground, had similar question marks over whether the reforms were needed.

He said: “I think as a town council we’re pretty pleased with the way Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs) have been working and wonder whether this will affect they way in which they’ve worked up until now, which has been very effective.”

Stuart McLaren, secretary of St Augustine’s Community Together Residents’ Association, was another who was unsure of exactly how the reforms might work.

He said: “I don’t really know enough about them, I would like to see more detail. I suppose the concern I would have is there would still be a problem that neighbours can become intimidated and still have to get together to report things.

“If they get as far as going to court and giving evidence, that’s when intimidation can step in. I still don’t think there’s any guarantee that people will be moved out of the area if they’re troublesome neighbours.” The Evening News contacted Norfolk police but a spokesman said they were not able to comment on the reforms at this stage.

Paul Ridgway, chairman of the Norfolk Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers in the county, said “anything that reduces bureaucracy that police officers work under will be good” but could not comment further as he needed to see the plans in more detail.

Kate Biles, divisional manager for Victim Supprt Norfolk and Suffolk said anything that could provide a “quicker response for the victim” was to be welcomed.

But Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, has hit out at the measures as being a “weaker rebrand” of powers to tackle anti-social behaviour.

She said: “It should not take three separate complaints, or five different households complaining, before getting a response. All complaints should be dealt with, and quickly: no-one wants to wait for the government’s slow trigger.”

Her concerns were echoed by Steve Morphew, former Norwich City Council leader, who is expected to be one of the Labour candidate’s for Norfolk’s first PCC.

He said: “The devil is in the detail. I don’t have a problem with some sensible changes but to me the problem in the past has been about enforcement.

“If people ignored their Asbo, I can’t see anything in the proposals which would be much different.

“On top of that if they are expecting police to enforce orders of whatever description it’s going to be, it is an extra burden at a time when the government is cutting a huge amount of the police’s capability to respond.”

Mervyn Lambert, who runs a Garboldisham-based plant hire, sales, rental and servicing firm and intends to stand as an independent PCC candidate, said new measures were one thing, but the problem of anti-social behaviour needed to be tackled at its source.

He said: “It seems to me all we get is new initiatives and things get worse. I think anti-social behaviour starts with the family a long way back and we’re dealing with the problem not the cause.”

What do you think? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk.

Measures announced by the government include:

A Crime Prevention Injunction - Allowing agencies to protect victims from hooligans and vandals at short notice. They would be civil orders used to prevent problem behaviour. They also have a lower standard of proof and it is claimed they could be put in place in days or even hours.

A Criminal Behaviour Order - To stop convicted criminals from engaging in particular activities or going to certain places.

A faster process to evict anti-social tenants.

A faster process to deal with irresponsible tenants.

Anti-socila behaviour orders (Asbos)

Anti-social behaviour orders - or Asbos – are civil (rather than criminal) orders imposed on individuals by the courts.

They are aimed at banning the individual from engaging in specific kinds of behaviour or going to certain places. These can prohibit actions which, although not criminal themselves, would be necessary steps before a criminal act – such as a ban on entering a shop to prevent shoplifting.

Breaching an Asbo, which has been described as a badge of honour among anti-social youths by critics, can result in a criminal punishment of up to five years in prison.

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