Cops and courts ready to crack down

YTEENAGE tearaways are a growing menace in our society, but what can be done to combat yob culture on the streets of Ipswich? JUDY RIMMER looks at the use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders – known as Asbos – and asks how well they are working.

YOBS beware! Police and courts are ready to crack down hard – and if you persist in troublemaking you could end up in custody.

That's the message going out today after the case of Ryan Wade, who appeared in court for breaching his anti-social behaviour order (Asbo).

Suffolk police and Ipswich council can jointly apply to the magistrates' court for these orders to be issued where people are causing persistent problems in a particular part of town.

Wade, aged 17, was banned last November from all Ipswich and Norwich Co-op stores in the Whitton area, and from the Alldays store on Macaulay Road and Balfour News on Garrick Way and Norwich Road, after threatening and harassing staff.

Under the terms of an Asbo, if you breach the order you can face up to five years in jail –- and Wade has now been sentenced to a ten-month detention and training order.

Another teenager, Keith Leathers, then 16, also received an Asbo last November.

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A third young troublemaker, Luke Singleton, 14, was banned from the same shops in February this year. His ban follwed a series of incidents including threatening a shopworker with a gun containing ball-bearings.

Some might see the need to sentence Wade to custody as an indicator that Asbos are not working properly.

But chief inspector Alan Pawsey takes an upbeat view and says just the opposite is the case.

He told The Evening Star the main aim of the orders was to send out a warning that offenders could face the prospect of court and custody if they did not change their ways.

The fate of Wade should now send out a warning to others.

"People who are subject to Asbos need to see that they will be taken to court if they breach the orders," he said.

"I am very positive about this because I think Asbos are one of the ways to get to grips with the low-level street disorder which causes so much distress.

"There are a very small number of people who are causing a lot of the problem. We need to deal with them and also focus on those who are their so-called followers.

"It's all about the authorities making a statement that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable."

So far, six Asbos have been issued in the town – not all to teenagers.

The first man to receive one of the orders was glue-sniffer John Potkins, 32, of High Street, Saxmundham, who appeared before magistrates in Ipswich in January 2000, after assaulting a man while being high on glue.

Just months later, in October, he was back in court. He was jailed for five-and-a-half years after attempting to rob a man, this time in his home town of Saxmundham.

Linsey Kilpatrick, 21, received a clampdown on her movements last year for offences including assault and drunken-disorderly behaviour.

In the year 2000, 61-year-old Anthony Warne received an Asbo for his drink-related problem behaviour.

Looking to the future, borough community safety officer Jim Manning said the council and police had applied for six more orders, and there was a possibility this might rise to eight.

He stressed that applying for an Asbo is not an easy route and very much seen as a last resort.

"There is an enormous amount of work attached and we are looking at other ways of addressing the problems," he said.

Where the offender is a young person who is supposed to be attending school, the education authority will be involved.

Social services, probation and the youth offending service are other agencies likely to take part in addressing the problem.

In the cases of Wade, Leathers and Singleton, the Ipswich and Norwich Co-op was also consulted.

To start with, a case conference is called. Various approaches are tried such as writing warning letters and going round to warn people in person, but, in the last resort, it may be decided that an order is the only way forward.

"When other routes have been tried, we may then decide to go to a magistrates court," said Mr Manning.

"The case is heard and hopefully an Asbo is applied to the individual, which will normally last for two years.

Ch Insp Pawsey stressed that Asbos are just one in a range of options to target anti-social behaviour.

Police have also introduced a youth nuisance register, which involves taking the names and addresses of young people who are involved in nuisance behaviour.

Once the same names have been taken more than three times, letters are sent to parents, to alert them to what their children are doing.

Youngsters have always stood in groups outside shops in the evening – but when they are intimidating staff and scaring away customers, something needs to be done.

"In the last year we have issued about 300 letters, and I have had some positive comments from many of the parents," said Ch Insp Pawsey.

"The purpose of the letters is to give parents information so they can take action."

As well as the nuisance register, another thing being tried is acceptable behaviour contracts. About a dozen of these have been used so far in Ipswich.

If a young person living in a council or housing association property has been causing trouble, the borough council can summon the person concerned and their parents to the local housing office and draw up a contract which says they will not misbehave.

Some London boroughs have successfully trialled these contracts, and Islington council has issued 60 to 70 of them.

Mr Manning said they had sometimes brought to attention "underlying issues" causing the bad behaviour.

"In two cases in Islington, two young lads were out on the streets causing problems. One of them was actually leaving his home in the early hours – his mother was a drug addict and a prostitute and his bed was a filthy, verminous pile of rags.

"When she was entertaining clients he couldn't cope and used to go out on the streets and cause a disturbance.

"Social services became involved to get his mum into treatment and buy him a proper bed."

There was another case, also in Islington, where a mother was kicking the older son out of the flat at night because they only had a two-bedroom flat and there was no room for him to sleep at the same time as her younger children.

"This was basically a housing problem and was solved when alternative accommodation was found," said Mr Manning.

In Ipswich, too, Mr Manning said sometimes there are multiple problems and the behaviour is a manifestation of those problems.

He said: "I grew up on the Whitton estate and there have always been problem families, but there are more pressures on youngsters of today – such as the pressure to get designer gear and the spread of drugs.

"Sometimes the parents genuinely can't cope. You don't get training to be a parent."

A number of initiatives are being tried to give help and support before problems develop, such as the Surestart initiative in south-east Ipswich, which is working with families.