Ryeview – April 2006

Curfew on the young is legalised bullying

John Clark writes…

First published: April 2006

“Well ’tis nine o’ clock, ’tis time to ring curfew” (1608). 400 years later things haven’t changed much. Pickering is to have its own curfew. Probably not a bell but all the control and repression of a curfew.

Curfews and Pass Laws (ID cards) were used in Apartheid South Africa, in Religion/Sectarian torn Northern Ireland or in Baghdad the other week. Dispersal orders and curfews are used by repressive regimes or when the state has tried everything else and failed.

The police are indignant at the ‘charge’ of crime increasing in Pickering. A senior police officer describes Ryedale as: – “crime levels in Ryedale are among the lowest of any district in the country (if not the lowest) and reducing still further”. (G. & H. 22/03/06). In this situation the police deserve congratulations as do the people of Ryedale. What is happening in Pickering to cause the abandonment of this ‘consensus’? Why overall is Ryedale so brilliant while Pickering is in need of ‘heavy policing’? The driving force for this is the ‘police state’ and ‘control’ obsession of the present government. The police are putting in place the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003 Part 4. This is described as ‘Dispersal of Groups and removal of persons under 16 to their place of residence.’

It is proposed that any group of two (it is hard to get smaller than that!) may be dispersed if it is likely to result in any members of the public being intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed. This has many big weaknesses.

  • ‘Likely to’ means it hasn’t yet happened and is therefore purely a judgement and is liable to be abused … like everywhere else where this type of law has been applied.
  • It will cause the alienation of a large group of mainly young people who ‘hang around’ in groups of more than one.
  • It is driving up the fear of crime. It highlights the undisputed headlines ‘Young trouble makers are running amok in North Yorkshire town’ and that the police need ‘tough new legal powers’. The low level of crime image is smashed.
  • Young people (for that is what it will be) will be dispersed. Where to? What happens in the areas where the groups reconvene outside the zone?

Most people are irritated by something. Most people are sometimes more than irritated by youngsters. Neither of these are sufficient reasons for taking away all young peoples freedom.

What is the solution? This presumes there is a problem. I don’t believe there is a high level of crime. I don’t believe Pickering warrants draconian measures and the beginnings of a ‘Police State’.

If we don’t want people in groups in Pickering Market Place where do we expect them to go? Do we want people to spend more time in the pub? Or even more time sat in front of the television? If there is a problem this is not the solution. Making them disperse is legalised bullying.

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