ONCE upon a time, Camden Council had a seemingly insatiable appetite for Asbos – the anti-social behaviour orders offered up by the New Labour government as a way of ending repetitive nuisance behaviour for which magistrates courts were failing to resolve.
Drug users and sex workers, who had made daily appearances in the dock, were run out of town by these orders. Excluded from the borough, they were warned that just stepping into Camden was now a criminal offence for them, potentially attracting a jail term.
Back then, circa 2004, the New Labour government and the New Labour-flavoured council worked closely together showcasing new initiatives like Asbos. Perhaps, eager to please, Camden racked up one of the highest number of Asbos in the country and then, regardless of calls from human rights groups to slow down a little, thought how it could use them further.
This rolling Asbo machine eventually led to council leader Dame Jane Roberts famously – famously, locally – standing on the steps of the Town Hall punching through a picture of Skater Boi singer Avril Lavigne and declaring war. Not the war on drugs, you see, but the war on fly-posting.
The theory was that as fly-posting was a blot on our walls – polls of residents said it made Camden feel scary – music firms and their executives could be Asbo’d for sticking up these promotional posters without permission.
If they weren’t going to see low level fines as a big enough deterrent and simply treat them as an occupational hazard in the mass marketing of a new album or a club night, then it was time to increase the penalty. This was seen as a bit of winner even to those who felt Camden had previously been involved in a heartless race to banish the borough’s most vulnerable from our sight with Asbos, without further thought about what aftercare might be needed for someone, say, shoplifting electric toothbrushes to fund a crack habit or lost selling sex in King’s Cross.
The fly-posting thing turned out to be a national story, as no other council had thought of using the legislation in this way. Camden, it should be said, already had in place a bitten lawyer, Richard Gruet, and a dogged chief anti-social behaviour officer, Ian Walker, who admirers praised for how they had extended the use of Asbos, and who chief councillors were happy to let go to work.
And the council effectively won its case.
Before legal proceedings were really heard in court, the music companies eased off and fly-posting has visibly decreased under railway bridges and on boarded up shops ever since. No longer does rotting glue slipping down the wall cause people to panic when they walk by Camden Road station.
So, given this back story and that Labour, the Asbo champions of champions, are back in power in Camden, people might wonder why there isn’t a similar letter winging its way to Tesco right now.
Pushed by the Lib Dems, environment chief Phil Jones was dutifully hand-wringing last week as new figures revealed the supermarket has been ticketed four times a week in the same spot in West End Lane, West Hampstead. These were new figures on a very old story, as the issue comes up again and again in the area, always unsoothed. The lasting feeling is that Tesco can swallow up the cost of parking fines when offset against the profitability of its store there.
To a layman, that sounds very similar to the old problem of the fly-posters – a repeat cycle with no end in sight. The delivery truck gets a parking ticket, it’s paid, it gets another ticket and it’s paid again, while all the time West Hampstead’s main thoroughfare is clogged up for traffic and horns are beeping. If it’s causing alarm and distress, shouldn’t Cllr Jones call in the A-team, Labour’s Asbo squad?