ASBO teens 'just want to move on'

Earlier this month the Evening Star called for sterner action to deal with young hoodlums causing havoc on Ipswich's estates. Today the mothers of two of the teenagers featured speak out against their treatment at the hands of the media, residents and police.

Earlier this month the Evening Star called for sterner action to deal with young hoodlums causing havoc on Ipswich's estates.

Today the mothers of two of the teenagers featured speak out against their treatment at the hands of the media, residents and police. Tracey Sparling reports.

DEFIANT mothers of a band of young criminals branded 'the untouchables' today defended their sons, saying they are needlessly trageted by the police.

Thomas Crowley and Jason Nicholls are among 11 Ipswich people to have been made subject to an anti-social behaviour order for crimes so extensive magistrates decided to publicly name them despite their young age.

The Evening Star has called for even tougher action to deal with loutish behaviour to get meaningful justice for victims of tearaway crime.

Younger teenagers on Gainsborough now look up to the infamous duo, it has emerged, as both approach their 18th birthdays after years of trouble on the streets.

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Today their mums want to say there is an other side to the pair than the 'thugs' described in court - and one which they want people to finally take notice of.

They know the teenagers' crimes cannot be denied, but say it is time their old reputation is forgotten if they are to have a chance of embarking on law-abiding adult lives.

Yet Crowley declined to issue an apology to his victims, and said: "I do regret it when I look back at what I've done in the past. It's not happening any more. I just want to settle down now."

Trina Crowley, 43, of Shackleton Road claims her son Tom is so notorious in the area that police and residents automatically name him, if they see a similar-looking youth in a red baseball cap or with ginger hair committing criminal damage.

She claims youngsters even don a red cap, and give the older boys' names when questioned about their crimes.

"People only know a few names, so he gets picked up by the police every time. If he'd done it, he should get what he deserves," she said.

"But even when Tom was in custody in the back of a police car once, he heard the radio message that 'Thomas Crowley' was hitting a girl.

"In the past I have had a lot of trouble with him, but the last time he offended was last year."

She said he had been accused of dozens of crimes but has half a dozen convictions.

She added: "They call him the leader - the gang leader, with Jason Nicholls as well. You can't call him a thug because he's not violent. He was accused of hitting a boy and was bound over to keep the peace, but at the end of the day he is not a violent person. He's never burgled.

"Tom intervened when kids were setting a dumped car alight because he knew the police would come after him first for it. The police still come round, so he says 'I might as well do what they are accusing me of.'"

"He's not a bad lad. He wants to go to college and train to be a car mechanic. "He's building his hopes up, and wants to prove to society he can do it, but bad publicity puts him a step back every time. Who's going to give him a job at the end of it, when there are half a million other applicants without a criminal record?"

She said only Tom's own desire to change had worked, and said: "He isn't not offending because of the ASBO - it's because he wants to do it. The ASBO is nothing to do with it.

"He's settled down with his girlfriend. He hardly goes out any more.

Crowley told how he discourages youger kids from following his conviction-strewn example.

"I tell the younger kids who look up to me, that they are being stupid when they do things. What's the point?"

Mrs Crowley said: "The kids think it is a laugh and he says 'What about when you've got convictions, no job?' but they still say 'we want to be like you.'"

She urged police and community groups to pull together to help children feel part of the community, and said: "People say it's down to boredom, but I blame the government for this age group having nothing to do."

She even started a petition for shopkeepers to sign if they had suffered no trouble from Tom recently, and said everyone did.

Now trouble is brewing from a new generation of kids aged as young as ten, she claimed, who need to be tackled about car fires and other criminal damage.

Yvonne Nicholls, of Drake Avenue hates seeing her son Jason's name in print, associating him with the ASBO he was given a year ago.

He will be 18 next week, and she said: "There are two sides to every story. He had been sold two bottles of vodka underage and was under the influence of alcohol when he smashed the cars up which led to the ASBO. He got into trouble with one shop in Queen's Way and got banned from all the shops in the area.

"He doesn't hang round the shops any more but people still say the names Nicholls and Crowley. He is facing up to his own responsibilities now. He just wants to get on.

"I've lived here 22 years and I ask people if they have a problem with my boy - if there was any problem I would sort it out."

Suffolk Police chief inspector Chris Mayhew responded to Mrs Crowley's allegation that Tom is always the one arrested, and said: "When an incident is reported it is up to us to investigate in the normal way. If information indicates any particular person was responsible for it, we follow it up with our enquiries.

"We are still very supportive of ASBOs, and they are only imposed after a catalogue of crimes have been committed."

Inspector for Ipswich East, Andy Solomon said: "Following numerous complaints about Thomas Crowley's behaviour in 2001, he signed an Acceptable Behaviour Contract involving the council, the police and his parents. The complaints continued and as a result of this a multi-agency meeting was held, at which it was decided to apply for an Anti Social Behaviour Order.

"When this matter reached the courts, several local residents were prepared to give evidence against him many more gave information but declined to attend court. He fully accepted the order and has subsequently been dealt with for breaching it."


At Queen's Way, many shopkeepers and residents were reluctant to give their names for fear of reprisals.

Some supported what the mums said, but others wanted to see proof first.

One shop keeper said: "We have started to see trouble coming from the younger children, rather than the older ones who tend to stay outside. The younger ones did get in at the back of the shop one night."

Next door, a retailer said: "The problems in this area have been going on for some time, but now it is also the younger ones aged about ten and often younger. I think they look up to the older boys and copy them. Everyone round here knows their names."

One man whose premises had been burgled, said: "I would agree with what the mums are saying to a certain extent, but it is a mixed age group causing the problems. It still wouldn't be a great surprise to see the 17 and 18-year-olds in court next week!"

Another businessman said: "I haven't had much of a problem, and one or two of the older lads come in as customers and are quite polite. I do agree there is a whole new generation coming through."

One woman said: "I would dispute what the mums are saying, in that it's only the younger ones causing all the trouble. It's also the older ones who have grown up and had their own kids, and it's their kids who are now setting fire to things."

Her friend said: "I'll believe the boys have left their old ways behind, when I see it."

N panel

Details of a new type of community court to crack down on minor crime and anti-social behaviour were revealed by the Home Secretary yesterday.

As reported in the Evening Star, David Blunkett welcomed an American judge and prosecutor who pioneered similar projects in the US.

UK officials are drawing up plans for pilot community justice centres described by the Home Office as "one-stop crime busting shops'.

Mr Blunkett said: "People's lives are blighted by the crime in their neighbourhood and they can feel powerless to do anything about it.

"Graffiti, criminal damage and car crime are not the most serious crimes but they can be very distressing and can leave a lasting mark on people's enjoyment of their community.

"I want ordinary people to feel they are involved in beating crime and meting out punishment to offenders."


What do you think?

Would you employ someone with a criminal record?

Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, Suffolk IP4 1AN.

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