Ross Clark Ross Clark

Asbo madness

Ross Clark examines the use of the Anti-Social Behaviour Order and says it is being wildly misapplied

Like many of my countrymen, I find the cantankerous figure of Charles Clarke somewhat alarming. In fact, I think on balance I would rather live next door to David Boag. It would certainly be more entertaining. Boag, a 28-year-old warehouseman from Dechmont, West Lothian, is a man of unusual habits. He likes to watch the film An American Werewolf in London, after which he spends some time howling. Not only that; neighbours who have taken to watching him through his curtainless windows have spotted him climb up a step ladder, leap on to his sofa and then dance around the room with a Christmas tree.

Whether Mr Boag is a little mad or just eccentric I don’t feel qualified to say. Perhaps he needs to meet some girls, or at least broaden his taste in films a little. What Mr Boag certainly didn’t need was prison, but that is where he ended up. Last December he was jailed for four months at Linlithgow sheriffs’ court. There is, it turns out, no specific statute in Scottish law against howling, still less one against jumping on to your sofa or against dancing with a Norwegian spruce. But that mattered not a bit when it came to imprisoning David Boag; not when the police, egged on by Mr Boag’s neighbours, had at their disposal the catch-all powers of the government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Orders — Asbos as they are widely known.

Last week Tony Blair began his third term in office by launching a campaign against ‘disrespectful behaviour’. ‘I cannot solve all these problems,’ he said. ‘I can start a debate on this and I can legislate. What I cannot do is raise someone’s children for them.’ What he omitted to say was that he had already attempted to legislate against anti-social behaviour, in the shape of Asbos, introduced in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, and that the results have not been so much ineffective as bizarre.

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