Is ‘annoyance and nuisance’ enough to get a criminal record?

So when you were 10, 12, 15, could you be ‘annoying’? Could you be a ‘nuisance’?

I interviewed my grandmother recently about what she did as a young girl.

Should this woman have had an ASBO?

Should this woman have had an ASBO?

She is now nearly 90 and has led, I think it’s fair to say, an almost blameless life. Yet as a young girl her and her group of friends would run up to houses, knock on the doors and run away…

Well if the new Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2013-14 gets passed, behaviour that my grandmother got up to could conceivably land her with a criminal record.

I’m no expert on this sort of issue – I’m an ex-teacher, done some community development, and spent the last five years promoting and leading programmes and campaigning to get kids more freedom to play. But my colleagues at the Standing Commitee on Youth Justice are. As are the Association of Chief Police Officers. Both of these bodies are concerned that ‘annoyance and nuisance’ are just too wishy-washy, too subjective.

I get called every few weeks because a child is threatened with an ASBO for playing football in the street, for drawing hopscotch squares or for climbing trees. Luckily most of the time the police see sense – it’s such a waste of their time – but the damage to the child, the family and the community is done. People don’t remember that the kids didn’t actually get an ASBO. They remember that it was threatened. And another kid, when they ask to go and play out, will now be told ‘no’.

So I and Mike from Play Wales emailed everyone in our address books, and literally 24 hours later we had over 50 signatures to a brief letter that was today published in the Times.

ASB letter in the Times

You can read the original letter on Play England’s website.

The Standing Committee on Youth Justice is recommending that Government retains the current definition of ‘anti social behaviour’ as ‘causing harassment, alarm and distress’, and that additional measures to support children with special needs, especially with mental health issues, are introduced. They state that simply widening the net of what counts as anti-social behaviour will do nothing to help alleviate the distress that real anti-social behaviour can cause.

We are supporting them in opposing this move as it will just be one more barrier that 10 year olds and upwards face to playing outdoors. Will you join us?

7 Responses to “Is ‘annoyance and nuisance’ enough to get a criminal record?”
  1. Tim Gill says:

    Reblogged this on Rethinking Childhood and commented:
    ASB Jul 2013

    In June 2010 Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that he wanted to see “spaces where children can play, where they can feel completely free, where they can safely push at the boundaries, learning and experimenting. Places where different generations can meet, binding the community together.” In 2008 – in a report on childhood launched by David Cameron himself – the Tories declared, “We must allow our children to be seen and heard.”
    The proposed legislation to criminalise children for “causing nuisance and annoyance” is a betrayal of these words and actions, and a shameful move by the Coalition government. It is a slap in the face to children – who let’s remember, are not so much couch potatoes as couch prisoners, and already have to overcome safety fears, traffic danger, and official hostility in order to enjoy that most basic of childhood pleasures, playing outside. It pulls the rug out from under parents who are trying to give their children a little more freedom. And it is (irony of ironies) profoundly anti-social, since it is likely to deprive children of the very kind of everyday experiences that help them learn how to become responsible citizens. Please do what you can to support Play England – and what I suspect will be a growing list of other concerned people – in fighting it.

  2. Tim Gill says:

    “The new threshold is too subjective and could unnecessarily criminalise children for simply being children” – spot on, and well done to Play England, Play Wales and the other signatories for highlighting this shameful move. How about drawing a contrast with legislators in Berlin? Recognising the decline in children’s freedom to be children, they have gone in completely the opposited direction, and exempted children from laws on creating noise pollution. (I’m told this is now the case across the country).

    • Cath Prisk says:

      Tim thanks so much for reblogging. Love the Berlin example! There will be a debate on 5live on Thursday morning about it too so do tune in and comment if you can.

  3. I wish my email address was still in your address book Cath as I would very happily have signed this, not just because the principle of free ranging should be protected, but also in the light of issues around outdoor street play in my own neighbourhood. A neighbour threatened to report a group of 6 year olds, chalking in the hammerhead of our cul de sac, to the police on the grounds of ‘criminal damage’. Sadly for him, after he drove at our children because they had their feet on the edge of the kerb, we reported him to the police instead. But who wants to live in a neighbourhood where this kind of thing is commonplace? Not me.

    Children playing on the streets and in our parks is a sign of a healthy society at peace with itself and all of the generations within it.

    • Julie you are right to ask ‘who wants to live in a neighbourhood like this’….
      I worry about those who have no choice or expectation about theor neighbourhoods.
      They may well suffer more form the effects of what seems to be idiotic and medieval legislation…

      Not that I don’t sympathise with you and would love to meet your neighbour…!

    • Cath Prisk says:

      Hi Julie, thanks for your contribution – couldn’t agree more. This is a perfect example of where these new IPNAs will be problematic, involving the police before its necessary. Thankfully most police understand situations like this, but we need whole communities to condemn the anti-child attitude of the few…

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