TOWN MP Iain Wright fears controversial comments by a police chief could indicate a frightening new policy in tackling anti-social yobs who blight our streets.
The MP spoke out after Cleveland Police’s Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer suggested that young people causisng problems could be part of “growing up”.
Her comments came just days after the Mail revealed anti-social behaviour in Hartlepool had rocketed over the summer.
Today, one victim of young yobs suggested the comments were out of touch with reality and added: “If it was on her doorstep I think she would have a different view.”
Mr Wright said he was regularly visited by frightened residents at his office, many of them in tears after claiming their lives had been made a misery by anti-social behaviour.
“Modern society means that different generations often don’t talk to one another and it can breed a lack of understanding and some old people maybe suspicious of young people.
“In that respect I understand where Jacqui is coming from.”
But he added: “I hope this doesn’t mean Cleveland Police will be going soft on anti-social behaviour because I have seen the misery it causes to decent people.”
Mr Wright said there had been “huge successes” in clamping down on the problem in the last 10-15 years through different partners working together.
But he added: “I hope this doesn’t mean we are going to see a change in policy and the behaviour of those who make people’s lives a misery can somehow be acceptable or tolerated.
“I have had people in my office in tears saying their lives are being made a misery through anti-social behaviour.”
Just last week, crime prevention representatives in Hartlepool revealed between July and September this year there were 2,230 incidents of anti-social behaviour reported - a rise of 321 compared to the same period last year.
Chf Con Cheer made the comments to an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children as part of an inquiry into the relationship between children and the police.
She said: “I believe we are becoming quite intolerant of young people in public spaces and I think we are too ready as a society, as the police and particularly with some legislation coming up on the books to label what looks like as growing up to me as anti-social behaviour.
“But what is anti-social to one person is just what I did and what many young people do.
“We’ve closed down a lot of places that people are allowed to go to. We’ve fenced off school grounds, I get it, but where do people collect?
“When you’re in a crowd of three or four it can get a bit noisy. Is that anti-social?
“When you’re walking down a street and might be having a bit of a laugh and joke is that anti-social?
“I do think and I am particularly worried about how some of the stuff coming up might push us further towards that because we’re not sure what anti-social means.”
Speaking to the Mail today, Chf Con Cheer moved to clarify her comments and suggested what she said had been “misinterpreted”.
She said: “There has been some misinterpretation of the comments I made last week while giving evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children on police engagement with young people.
“While it’s clear that antisocial behaviour should not be tolerated and people should contact the police if they are concerned, there is a danger that some young people may be demonised and branded as antisocial when this is not the case.
“I spoke about the police’s contact with young people, which tends to be in open spaces and out on the streets. Part of the police’s role is to protect young people and if antisocial behaviour happens, we, and by this I mean police, parents, local authorities, health, need to understand the root causes and talk to young people about these issues and address what needs to happen next.
“And it’s important to say that adults are involved in antisocial behaviour as well, it’s not exclusive to young people. Young people really are our future and it’s important we engage with them to understand the issues they are facing and work through them together.”
ALLOTMENT holders across Hartlepool are regularly targeted by yobs, with youths breaking into sheds, stealing equipment and even setting fires.
They have been left angered at comments made by Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer.
There was fresh evidence of anti-social problems yesterday when the clock tower at Ward Jackson Park was daubed in offensive graffiti.
The base of the 100-year-old clock tower was targeted by yobs with spray cans, and efforts have been made to try to remove the worst of the graffiti.
Referring to the comments made by Chf Con Cheer, Chris Walker, secretary of Haswell Avenue Allotment Association, said: “If it was on her doorstep I think she would have a different view.
“What we have encountered over the years, which we can live with, is kids jumping over the fence and pulling up a few carrots.
“But if nothing is done and nobody intervenes, as we have found out, it goes on from there and sheds get broken into and earlier this year we had qute a few sheds destroyed by fire.
“Anti-social behaviour seems pretty low down the scale of priorities for police to procure any manpower towards solving those problems.”
Dennis Ford, chairman of Chester Road Allotment Association, said: “This seems completely out of touch. The allotments have suffered repeated attacks, but most now go unreported.
“What she has got to understand is what might seem trivial like pulling plants out of an allotment, for some elderly man it’s heartbreaking.
“Some people spend their lives up here carefully tending their plots, and to see it destroyed is sickening.
“By making comments like that, it gives us no confidence that when we make complaints, they will be investigated properly.”
Louise Calvert, secretary of Rossmere Allotment Association, added: “This is just not acceptable. Jacqui Cheer should come down here and see the work that goes into these sites, and see how it is destroyed.
“Anti-social behaviour can simply ruin people’s lives. It certainly shouldnt be seen as part of growing up.”
Robert Smith, chairman of the Fens Residents’ Association said he doesn’t think residents are intolerant of small groups of boisterous teens.
He said: “Residents should be entitled to full support from the police when large gangs regularly congregate, use foul language, drink, litter and trespass on gardens.”
Mr Smith added: “If Jacqui Cheer is saying that relatively harmless youthful larkig about should be left out of anti-social behaviour, and that at the opposite end of the scale wilful criminal damage and malicious harassment should no longer be classed as anti social behaviour and treated more seriously, then I find it difficult to disagree with her.”
But Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, leader of the council and also chairman of the Safer Hartlepool Partnership, said more adults were responsible for anti-social behaviour in the town than youngsters.
He said: “They need to have somewhere to go rather than just hanging around.
“But just because young people are hanging around in groups doesn’t mean they are causing a nuisance or it is anti-social behaviour.”