Councillors clash over how to deal with anti-social behaviour by youths

Council members have traded blows over how to punish youngsters vandalising Hemlington with some wanting the children to be imprisoned and others calling for parents’ TVs to be claimed by bailiffs.

At a Middlesbrough Council meeting on January 26, Mayor Andy Preston said there hadn’t been any progress tackling anti-social behaviour on the estate and that tough consequences were needed for bad behaviour.

He added: “When you have got somebody smashing your windows and terrorising you because you are old or different, that’s a hate crime, it’s not acceptable and people are scared to report it.

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“What I am urging everyone to do, and every councillor to, is to get out there and tell people to report crimes. We cannot push the police or allocate council resources, unless we have the data of where and when.”

How should anti-social behaviour be dealt with?

He went on to add: “I would love to see them in prison by the way. I had a debate with someone earlier who didn’t want to see kids’ lives ruined. Well I will tell you what, a kid of 14 or 15 getting arrested and getting into serious trouble does not ruin their life, it actually helps them.

“It stops them from going on a worse path where their behaviour gets even worse and their crimes become more serious.”

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This week, Hemlington has been hit with a dispersal order to crack down on yobs in the area. It means that youths who gather in large groups can be moved on by police officers or face arrest.

One pensioner who lives on the estate has even put up makeshift netting to protect his home from youngsters firing catapults.

Coun Matt Storey, leader of the Labour Group, believes that there needs to be a more strategic approach to dealing with anti-social behaviour in the town.

He added: “Hemlington is the flashpoint at the moment but it’s other estates, other areas outside of the town centre where similar issues are happening all of the time.

“We need to make sure that the policies the council has regarding crime and anti-social behaviour covers everybody and we are all making sure that everyone’s community is safe as possible.

“At the minute the PSPO (public space protection order) covers Central Ward and Newport but it doesn’t cover the rest of Middlesbrough and when people see that just those two wards are covered by that but no-one else is I think that’s a problem and we need to make sure we are targeting our issues and addressing them right across Middlesbrough.”

‘They haven’t been born to be criminals’

Labour councillor, Zafar Uddin, disagreed with the mayor that the youngsters in Hemlington should be put behind bars.

He said: “I feel this anti-social behaviour with young children, they haven’t been born with it, they haven’t been born to be criminals, there are reasons for it.

“Rather than put them in jail if we could put some structured support for the family and for the environment as well as the child and we can come out of it, but jail is not the answer. “

However, the mayor said that he believed that prison worked and was keen to see actions taken against the perpetrators in Hemlington, which has been dubbed ‘Little Beirut’ due to the anti-social behaviour that’s been rife for months.

He responded: “People say jail or prison doesn’t work but I tell you, it does work.”

The mayor went on to add: “The biggest single thing that’s missing now is consequences for bad behaviour.

“That’s why you have got kids running around in balaclavas pretending to be gangsters with no consequences and no action and that’s why it’s not going to stop until we catch them and there are consequences.”

‘Send the bailiffs in and take their 50-inch televisions’

Independent councillor Joan McTigue believes that much tougher punishments need to come in for those committing anti-social behaviour and she believes that people get off with crimes too easily.

She said: “We have to have some system where these people are removed from society because society, they shouldn’t have to put up with it.

“Old people are frightened to live in their own homes. We shouldn’t have to put up with it, it’s gone beyond. The parents are to blame initially because they haven’t brought their children up correctly.

“Okay, some of the children might have mental issues which manifest themselves in anti-social behaviour or whatever.

“But the majority of these children, I think it’s a case of the parents, they’re [kids] are out of sight so they don’t have to worry about them until the police come knocking on their door. I would like to see parents, if they’re able, if they have the funds, to be fined for what their children do.

“If they don’t have the money, send the bailiffs in and take their 50-inch televisions from them, they’ll soon want to curb the children’s behaviour then. We are not strict enough, we are far too soft.”

Coun Alan Bell, who represents Hemlington and is a member of the Middlesbrough Independent Councillors Association, agreed with Cllr McTigue that tough action involving the perpetrators’ parents was needed.

He said: “I personally would make the parent take their child to a police station every night at half-past eight and sit there for an hour and make their lives uncomfortable. That’s what I would do.”

‘If you jail the young kids, they are just going to recruit more’

However, Coun Chris Cooke believes that it’s actually organised crime gangs that need to be tackled, rather than just trying to punish the young people.

He said: “So far we have blamed court, police, parents, Thirteen, the children themselves and mental issues.

“I am quite concerned that we don’t tackle the bigger root cause which is the more sophisticated organised crime gangs that operate in Middlesbrough most reportedly in Hemlington and in Newport.

“There is one [gang] shared between those two areas and it’s not a coincidence that the more action we take in Newport the worse things get in Hemlington cause there’s a link between that gang.”

He went on to add: “If you jail the young kids, they are just going to recruit more. We need to work with young kids to make sure they don’t get lured into those sort of situations but heavily target those that are luring them.”

In response, Mr Preston said that while he thought there was some truth to the comments, it is mainly a small number of 12-16 year olds causing the problems in Hemlington by “smashing windows, intimidating people and hurling missiles at others”.