Brent: dispersal orders slammed

A CIVIL liberties group has warned against a rising tide of intrusion after police and councillors enacted six dispersal orders – the highest ever number.

The orders, which give police extra powers to move along groups of two or more people who they suspect of causing anti social behaviour, are running simultaneously in town centres in Harlesden, Alperton, Wembley, Kilburn and Barnhill.

If a person has been moved on under the order, it is a criminal offence for them to return to the area within 24 hours.

But civil liberties groups slammed the orders, which they branded panic policing.

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Anti-social behaviour is on the rise because proper policing is on the decline, abandoned in favour of the cheaper but inadequate substitutes of PCSOs and CCTV cameras.

“That failure has led to panic which has led to the creation of dispersal orders. They might be justified on occasion, but the kind of blanket use seen in Brent is completely disproportionate – it’s heavy-handed and indiscriminate.”

Fellow civil liberties group Liberty has campaigned against the orders, which they claim blur the distinction between nuisance and criminal behaviour.

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In a 2007 report Liberty policy director Gareth Crossman warned: “There is no need that any individual be suspected of involvement in criminal activity before being subjected to a dispersal order.

“Breach of an order is a criminal offence. Similar to an anti social behaviour order, the behaviour leading to breach does not have to be criminal.”

But police and councillors defended the measures, which they said were necessary as a last resort for tackling persistent yobbish behaviour.

PC Lee Tyrrell, from the Harlesden Safer Neighbourhood Team, said they had applied for a dispersal order in and around church road, in Harlesden, only as a last resort.

He said: “Obviously we don’t want to just push the problem to another area, but I think it has really worked in Harlesden. Complaints have fallen and the problem has subsided.

“We only use it as a last resort, and there needs to be solid evidence to justify it.”

Lincoln Beswick, Brent Council crime chief, said: “I am responding to an increase in reports of anti social behaviour.

“People are going around in groups causing mayhem.”

However a spokeswoman for Brent Council’s anti social behaviour team said there hasn’t been an increase in complaints, although a higher proportion of reports concerned groups.