End of the Asbos

AS Home Secretary Theresa May prepares to kibosh Anti-Social Behaviour Orders – Asbos – there is a serious debate to be had about how well they worked in Camden, where they were dished out at a pace that hardly any local authority in the country could keep puff with. There’s also another chance to see this collector’s item: a picture of former Camden Council leader Dame Jane Roberts punching her way through an Avril Lavine poster. Just look at the anger in those clenched teeth. She hates fly-posting. Really hates it. The Town Hall used Asbos to clamp down on fly-posting music companies six years ago.

The Asbo argument is hard to reconcile in this area of London. Of course they sound draconian. There is something medieval sounding about running the baddies out of town. A step up from ‘Wanted’ posters, something like that. But the transformation of King’s Cross in particular challenges the opposition. Sex is surely still sold on that neighbourhood’s streets, drugs still peddled – but not in the same quantity and not in broad daylight on Euston Road. Crack pipes are no longer common litter in telephone boxes and on doorsteps.

The most persistent offenders were of course collared by Asbos. Court orders made it illegal for some of them to walk down certain streets around the stations and the Town Hall buildings, a punch to their human rights that was always worthy of scrutiny. Yet I know from reporting and investigating some of these cases that the Asbos actually changed their lives for the better. Not all – but some.

Addicts and women working as prostitutes were zombified in a near daily cycle, descending on what had become an entrenched meeting place for troubled souls in King’s Cross. They would be arrested, locked up for a couple of days or weeks – or zapped with a fine they couldn’t pay – and then on release they would head like homing pigeons right back to the same bloody marketplace.

Of course there should have been more holistic measures to break this cycle, but the coercion was set against critical, pretty desperate times. People often say there was a rush to clean up King’s Cross for developers and Eurostar commuters. But the door at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court was revolving with the same crack-ruined faces in need of speedy help. Headline-grabbing Asbos which Camden sought to obtain against music companies and fly-posters bent the parameters of the system. The ambition and creativity from the legal brains actually just gave critics the chance to mock a catch-all shotgun that looked like it was being obsessively fired in all directions. The drug addict who retreated from her chaotic life in King’s Cross, back to her roots in Essex, later telling how her Asbo had saved her life should nevertheless can’t be ignored. It’s not cut and dry.

5 Comments on End of the Asbos

  1. Theo Blackwell // August 2, 2010 at 6:25 pm //

    More worryingly, the withdrawal of powers to issue orders undermines the whole architecture to combat persistent anti social behaviour – it is unlikely that pcsos, street wardens or cctv will be more effective if powers are watered down. Indeed they are much more likely to be weaker. The then undermines Safer Neighbourhoods Teams, which are popular.

    The evidence from Camden is there- the question for the new Conservative-lib dem government review is which of our 460 orders would they not have issued?

  2. Local Tory // August 4, 2010 at 6:21 pm //

    And the question for Richard is when is he going to give us a Dame-Jane-Stupid-Publicity-Photo-Caption-Competition. There would be so many crackers to choose from.

  3. theo blackwell // August 4, 2010 at 6:26 pm //

    Local tory – play the BALL, not the (wo)man.

  4. Local Tory // August 5, 2010 at 9:42 am //

    Why Theo, its almost as if you remember the toe curling embarrassment of the vicar’s use of public money for self publicity. When will Dobbo and Glenda get out of her way, eh?

  5. theo blackwell // August 5, 2010 at 10:13 am //

    Waiter! Fetch me 4 years of smiling photos of cllrs moffitt and marshall launching council policy for starters.

    For my main ill have a double helping of cameron – one on a huskie and the other ‘riding a bike’ (they get ‘soft money’ in opposition). Can I get a side order of ‘PM direct’ as well as its in season?

    I’d like to finish with a double helping of the hm treasury’s ‘budget consultation’, the ‘elf ‘n safety review and the asbo review which all caught my eye as tasty uses of tapayers money for no good purpose (as opposed to the above initiative by labourn which cut flyposting in the borough by 95pc and got a guarantee from music firms to stop the practice).

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