Andrew Vine: Time to teach a lesson to the rude and anti-social

THE first week of the new school term brought excitement and trepidation for children flocking in through the gates.

And in one corner of Yorkshire, it brought a morning of distress and discomfort for a group of elderly and housebound people.

That’s because a doting mother dropping off her little darling at school chose to dump her lovely, shiny new four-by-four right across the driveway of a district nurse’s house, preventing her from getting out and setting off on her rounds.

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It was nearly three-quarters of an hour before the inconsiderate driver returned, complete with bag of groceries from a nearby parade of shops, by which time the nurse’s schedule was in chaos, leaving patients waiting for her visit upset and worried. The rest of her day was spent apologising for being late and reassuring vulnerable people that they had not been forgotten.

As the nurse told the story, I could see the final insult coming as surely as night follows day. The driver showed not a trace of remorse, refused to offer an apology and simply roared off down the road. Let’s hope her offspring learns better manners in school than those on display at home.

All of us have witnessed something like this – an incident of unpardonable rudeness in which there is a complete absence of consideration for others, whether it is somebody parking appallingly, or the revolting spectacle of youths spitting on the pavement.

It’s anti-social and unpleasant, often causing nuisance and inconvenience, and intensely annoying, not least because the culprits know perfectly well that nothing is likely to happen to them as a consequence.

Except, very shortly, it might and I’ll raise a cheer to that. In a month or so, a piece of legislation comes into force that gladdens the heart of any of us who abhor loutish behaviour.

The term “public space protection orders” hardly trips off the tongue, but I’ll bet the acronym PSPO quickly becomes as a familiar as ASBO. The new orders will give council officials and police community support officers powers to issue fines of up to £100 for such annoyances as blocking people’s driveways, spitting, street drinking, persistent fundraisers who pursue their victims along the street and a whole range of other nuisances. Those who fail to pay will end up in court.

The measures haven’t yet received much publicity, but when they do, my hunch is that they will receive widespread support for their potential to fight back against the selfish and boorish.

It can certainly be argued that a £100 fine isn’t go to do much to dent the finances of our well-dressed lout who can afford a top-of-the-range four-by-four, but it will leave enough of a nasty taste to hopefully ensure she doesn’t block in the district nurse again, or for that matter, anybody else who needs to get on with their day.

And any day of mine would be brightened by seeing a community support officer pull up somebody for spitting in the street and hand out a fine.

The effectiveness of sensible, small-scale measures like this on cracking down on unpleasant behaviour should not be under-estimated. The introduction of council enforcement officers who patrol our towns and cities issuing penalties to those who drop litter, or fail to put cigarette ends in bins, has made the streets tidier and encouraged people to dispose of their rubbish properly.

Such habits should, of course, begin at home but if the example of somebody on the school run caring not in the slightest about whatever inconvenience is caused by the way she parks is anything to go by, enforcement will have to go some way towards compensating for poor parenting.

There will be those who argue that it is up to all of us to challenge anti-social behaviour, and they are right. But nervousness over accosting swaggering, spitting young men who are possibly in drink and looking for trouble is perfectly understandable.

And if a district nurse’s protestations that she had been unable to get out to help sick people did not prompt any sign of regret or shame in an inconsiderate driver, then perhaps that demonstrates common decency doesn’t feature prominently in many people’s lives.

Issuing PSPOs won’t be easy for those charged with doing so. They will need to be braced for abuse and probably threats from those humiliated and angry at having their anti-social behaviour exposed and held to account.

But council officials and community support officers should console themselves with the thought that the public will back them, cheer them on 
and urge them to keep at it in the belief that they are helping to make everyday life just that bit more civilised.