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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 836-ii
House of commons
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
Draft Anti-Social Behaviour Bill
Tuesday 22 January 2013
Janet Grauberg, Penelope Gibbs and Ellen Broome
Liz Walker and Javed Khan
Evidence heard in Public Questions 102 - 146
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 22 January 2013
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Janet Grauberg, Director of UK Strategy, Barnardo’s, Penelope Gibbs, Chair, Standing Committee for Youth Justice, and Ellen Broome, Director of Policy and Public Affairs, The Children’s Society, gave evidence.
Q102 Chair: Could I call the Committee to order and refer all present to the Register of Members’ Interests, where the interests of members of this Committee are noted. Could I welcome our three witnesses for this session: the Director of UK Strategy for Barnado’s, Ms Grauberg; Penelope Gibbs, from the Committee for Youth Justice; and Ellen Broome, the Director of Policy for the Children’s Society. Thank you very much for coming. As you know, the Committee is scrutinising legislation that has been put before the House on anti-social behaviour, and Members have some questions for you in respect of the organisations that you represent. Because there are three of you, please feel free to come in, by indicating to me, to give answers to any of the questions that members may have. I want to start, if I may, with a number of anti-social behaviour orders that were issued to the under-18s. I think 40% of ASBOs are issued to under-18s, who comprise only 13% of the population. If I could start with you, Janet Grauberg, why is that?
Janet Grauberg: I would say we need to see all this in context and that the scrutiny of the Bill measures is only just one part of the wide range of things that should be done to tackle anti-social behaviour. The White Paper talks in a very high level about some of the other initiatives, but the evidence is work with young people if you want to get long-term change. There are other measures as well as the sanctions that should be thought about. Troublesome children are more likely to be troubled children, too, and there is some work to be done on thinking about that in context.
Penelope Gibbs: I would say it reflects that young people probably commit more of the behaviour that we call anti-social behaviour and what we would say, as Janet has pointed out, is that behaviour causes huge suffering to victims, we recognise that, and to communities, but we would say that this way of dealing with anti-social behaviour is, for the most part, not the best way of dealing with it for children under the age of 18.
We would put forward that there are other government initiatives, for instance the troubled families’ initiative, the whole youth justice system and all the informal approaches that accompany that, but there is also the very promising ground of restorative justice. We feel that in many circumstances very well delivered restorative justice approaches using trained professionals and a proper conference can help prevent future anti-social behaviour from these young people but also that it is a much better approach most of the time for victims. The victim satisfaction of those who have been through the RJ process is much higher than those who have been through formal justice processes.
Ellen Broome: I would echo what my colleagues have said here. I would also say that the perception of nuisance and annoyance varies greatly among the public, but we know that it is heightened when it comes to young people. I think in many cases where there have been complaints about anti-social behaviour there has turned out to be a general intolerance of what can only be termed normal behaviour by young people, such as playing football in a park or climbing trees or congregating with their friends. I would say that also contributes to the high proportion of children receiving ASBOs.
Q103 Chair: Is it the lack of diversions for young people? I had a case in my constituency, a man of 47 who had gone out shopping, came back to his house and there were two young people outside the lift, two were inside, and they just beat him up very badly and I was told by the police this was because there was nothing else for them to do. There were no other activities. How much is that an excuse?
Penelope Gibbs: I think that is definitely part of the answer, and the Standing Committee pointed out in its written evidence that there have been cuts to youth services and also, in fact, to youth offending teams. What I would say is what you describe is a crime. It is also anti-social behaviour, but if we are going to address this behaviour, I think such an act would be much better dealt with by the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system has expertise in dealing with under-18-year-olds, a whole suite of different sentences and approaches, and it would be better dealt with as a crime rather than as anti-social behaviour.
Q104 Bridget Phillipson: Many of your objections, as I understand it, to what has been proposed are around the principle of a civil order being breached being a criminal matter. That occurred under the old system and that will continue under the new system. Are there any features of the new regime that you think would increase the chances of young people facing criminal charges?
Janet Grauberg: I just want to focus on the dispersal powers, and we do not think the Bill addresses the concerns that we raised in our consultation on this. At an individual level, a young person on the street after 9 pm is likely to be in trouble of some kind. We talked in our consultation about young people who might be, in the worst case, being exploited for sex. The proposals at the moment allow a police constable or a PCSO to issue them with a dispersal order there and then, not necessarily in writing, and to take them home if they are out after 9 pm. There is probably something going wrong there. There might be trouble at home or something else and just saying, "Please go home", is not going to work, and a breach of that order is going to be a criminal offence; so, a bit concerned about that.
I think at a neighbourhood level, going back to the question that Keith Vaz just asked, groups of people hanging out causing trouble usually means there is something else going on. Maybe the youth club that they went to is no longer there or has been taken over by a new clique. Again, the fact that breaching a dispersal order is going to be a criminal offence, I think, gives cause for concern.
Penelope Gibbs: We are particularly worried about the level of sanctions available for breaching these orders for under-18s. Under the CBO a 10-year-old can be imprisoned for five years. Somebody might say that is theoretical, but to us that is important. That length of sentence, five years, is far longer than any equivalent under the youth justice system. In the Youth Court, even for a medium seriousness of offence you could get up to two years. We are very worried about the sanctions, particularly given that for some of the orders there is a lower standard of proof required and it says in the impact assessment that this lower standard of proof should make it quicker, less expensive and reduce evidence-gathering. When we are talking about vulnerable children who could get custody for breach, we are not happy that a lower standard of proof should be used or that that should be the rationale behind the process.
Ellen Broome: I would probably point to the length of both injunctions and orders. I think there is already a problem with young people finding it difficult to envisage the end point of the order and, therefore, not incentivising them to keep to them but rather breaching them. I think the extension to indefinite in terms of the IPNA and CBOs minimum one year and maximum three years could lead to more breaches as people struggle to keep to that. One of the solutions that I would like to see is to have no minimum duration of any of the orders or injunctions and, indeed, have a maximum term. From our experience and our practice with children and young people, six months seems to be an appropriate level to where young people can adjust and see the end point and, therefore, be incentivised to change their behaviour in a positive way.
I would also like to add to your point that you made earlier. I think this relates to the negative attitudes to young people and not involving them in the process. One of the other things I would like to see is, when we have positive requirements that are laid out in the Bill, I think they should be set with the involvement of the child and the young person and they should be voluntary and, therefore, not have a sanction for breach. That is something that we choose to have in our practice. Positive sanctions should not have breaches, because we should encourage the young person to take part in them and to keep to them.
Q105 Dr Huppert: Just a couple of very quick questions to anyone, following up from that about courses. I note that in the clause 25 of the draft Bill it says that criminal behaviour orders can allow provision for orders to be reduced if people do an approved course, but only if the offender is over 16. Does that seem like an anomaly to you?
Ellen Broome: Yes, I think orders and injunctions should be subject to regular review with the option of early termination for all children under 18.
Dr Huppert: Would both of you agree with that?
Penelope Gibbs: Absolutely. They are supposed to be preventative orders, so it makes sense to review them and to lift them if the behaviour of the child appears to be good.
Q106 Dr Huppert: Another issue is about restrictions on reports and proceedings where children and young people are concerned. Clause 17 and various others say that section 49 of the Children’s and Young Persons Act 1933 does not apply, so people can be named and shamed. Do you have opinions on the balance between the desire among some public to see that happen and the concerns for the children themselves?
Penelope Gibbs: I have yet to see a very good piece of research saying the public think that children should be identified. I would like that kind of onus, but, equally, all the research on rehabilitation-there are cases in the criminal justice world where children have been named and it has certainly blighted their lives, if not ruined them. That is for quite serious crimes. Here we are are talking about anti-social behaviour, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says that the child’s privacy should be maintained and that there is not a strong public benefit in naming the child, particularly given the problems of rehabilitation once that child has been named and publicised.
I think this has changed so much with social media and the web. In the old days you might get a local-paper story once, which nobody could then chase again unless they went to their local library; whereas nowadays those stories are on the web for ever more with photographs. These children have families. They are going to places of education and so on. It is incredibly important that we help them regain opportunities in their lives.
Ellen Broome: I would agree with that. I think it has been ineffective as a deterrent, I would like to add, and it has only helped to further criminalise and stigmatise young people and perpetuated the problems rather than resolving them, which I think was the intention.
Q107 Dr Huppert: If you are all agreed on that, I will move on. Many of the young people who commit anti-social behaviour-and there are undoubtedly some who cause significant problems-how many of them would you see as also being victims, and is there a strong overlap between those two categories?
Janet Grauberg: I think the answer is yes. Also, more widely, to go back to the point made at the beginning, none of us are condoning anti-social behaviour or crime. All are very clear about the distress that it causes. But our experience from the services that we run and from analysis such as the NAO report did is that children causing trouble, whether it is anti-social behaviour or crime, are also likely to be troubled themselves.
Just thinking back to the riots a couple of summers ago, the evidence showed that two-thirds of the young people found guilty there had a diagnosis of special educational needs. The Department of Health figures show that a quarter of children in the youth justice system had a learning disability. There is something about understanding the complex nature of their lives, firstly in the ability to understand what is happening to them, so the risk of breach that Ms Phillipson talked about, but also about how you are going to solve the problem rather than just move it on or punish it.
Q108 Dr Huppert: Under what circumstances do you think the various measures in this Bill are going to be an effective tool for tackling youth anti-social behaviour?
Penelope Gibbs: We would prefer that ASB orders were not used for under-18s as an ideal. If we are going to have them, they should be an absolute last resort. We would like assurance that other approaches had been tried first, whether it is looking at the welfare needs of the child and trying to meet them, restorative justice or looking at cautions within the youth justice system; that kind of approach. If they are going to be used, we would like an assessment done of each child to ensure that the court understands the welfare background of that child, the health background and so on, just in the same way that they would get an assessment in the Youth Court for a criminal-justice approach.
Q109 Dr Huppert: Do you have evidence that these alternative measures would be effective in reducing anti-social behaviour? I understand the theory, but do you have evidence that it would work to reduce the harms that are being caused to people?
Janet Grauberg: The work that Louise Casey is doing on the troubled families initiative-they had a report published in July that suggested that the family intervention approach that they are promoting is resulting in a 58% reduction in anti-social behaviour. I suppose that is the wider context mentioned in the White Paper. There are interventions that are known to work, and they have been rolled out through that programme. They are just not the subject of this Bill.
Penelope Gibbs: Can we come back to you? We have expert colleagues in the Restorative Justice Council, and I would like to talk to them about their best evidence for these kinds of questions.
Dr Huppert: That would be very helpful.
Ellen Broome: If I could just add to that, that is the point that I regret about this Bill. This Bill deals with the last resorts, but it does not set out that clear and coherent strategy for preventing anti-social behaviour occurring in the first place, and we know that a lot of negative behaviour by children is often caused by unmet need. Those vital services in the local area, whether that is victim/offender mediation or family support, are key to preventing and intervening early before we get to the point where any of the things in this Bill would necessarily apply to children.
Penelope Gibbs: I think the breach rate for children indicates that the present regime does not work particularly well, because around two-thirds of all ASBOs that children have have been breached. Some people could say that is a success. I am afraid we would say that is a failure.
Q110 Mr Winnick: Ms Gibbs, your organisation in particular has expressed concern understandably-and I am sure your two colleagues are also concerned on behalf of their organisations-regarding the effect of funding being reduced for children’s services. Have you found much experience of this so far?
Penelope Gibbs: Can I just say that both my colleagues are members of the Standing Committee themselves, so we are united together on this one.
Mr Winnick: Glad to hear it.
Penelope Gibbs: I think there is good documentation on cuts to youth services and to youth offending teams. I might go to my colleagues to see if they have any more detail on that, but, again, we can come back to you with some hard evidence.
Janet Grauberg: We are certainly seeing-
Mr Winnick: Sorry, you will be coming back? You will be writing to us?
Penelope Gibbs: Yes, I will. But my colleagues right now might have some more information.
Janet Grauberg: We are beginning to see that. It is variable, but some of the projects we work with are in flux at the moment. Take the dispersal order for a start. The new arrangements do not require any consultations with the local authority or with anybody at all, with the housing providers or whatever, which the previous arrangements did. I think that could be a real missed opportunity, because if there was that conversation that happened before the powers were used, then there could be a conversation that said, "What do we know about the local services here? What do we know about what is on offer? Has anything changed?" and you could have that joined-up conversation. I know you had evidence from the LGA last week on this. I think we will see the impact of both the cuts and that lack of consultation could work together in a harmful way if these plans go ahead.
Q111 Mr Winnick: We are going to hear later about what happened to a particular person and the agonies-I think that would be the right word for it-that she and the family had to go through. Does common sense not dictate that, if services are to be cut along the lines indicated, it is going to increase rather than decrease anti-social behaviour in the sense that the culprits will not be apprehended by the authorities as quickly as one would like?
Penelope Gibbs: I think the cuts to youth services clearly affect whether young people have productive and interesting things to do. One would hope that, in terms of the police and others who notice and deal with anti-social behaviour, the cuts do not impinge there too much. What one wants is for there to be resources not just to deal with the notice of the anti-social behaviour but to prevent it and to deal with the underlying causes.
Q112 Mr Winnick: The draft Bill, as I understand it, makes positive requirements that are dependent on the availability of services in the local area. It will not be universal, however much the Government may obviously wish that it could be, if it is going to depend on availability. It must, am I not right, tend to vary from area to area depending on the strength of the police, on the children’s services and other agencies? Would you agree?
Ellen Broome: I would agree with that, and I would say I think, without the clear and coherent strategy I was talking earlier, around prevention and early intervention, we are risking a postcard lottery in terms of the support the children get, and that could inevitably lead to more children being fast-tracked into the courts or ending up at the hard end rather than preventing the behaviour in the first place.
Janet Grauberg: I know we are still at the very early stages of this, but there is very little detail on how those positive arrangements might work and what support might be given to a young person and their family or the people around them to help them succeed in them. There are risks-if that comes out in the wrong way, that sets up a young person to fail again. The organisations we represent and work with have a lot of experience of working with these young people. We would hope that, as things go forward, we might be able to have a conversation about how we can support young people to succeed, because the object of the exercise is to transform the lives of those young people so they do not create anti-social behaviour in the future. That is one way through it.
Q113 Mr Winnick: I wonder if I can come to a core point, unless it has already been covered, because I was a few minutes late coming into the room. These youths in the main have parents. There may be exceptions, unfortunately, but how far, where such behaviour exists, would it be appropriate to take action against the parents at an early stage? If Johnny is causing difficulties and persists in causing difficulties, then the obvious question is, what on earth are his parents doing, if he has both parents, otherwise whoever is bringing him up? Is that too simple?
Penelope Gibbs: I think part of the answer lies with what Janet Grauberg was saying about the troubled families agenda, and that is not about sanctions against the parents. It is about trying to support and help a troubled family so that the parent parents better, so that the children behave better and so on. We would say that approach of assessing the difficulties that family is under should be always tried first before imposing punishment on the parents.
Q114 Mr Winnick: But if it does not work, you do accept sanctions are necessary for the effect on the neighbourhood? If any of you, like us, were living next door or very near where such incidents are occurring repeatedly, we would want action from the authorities, would we not?
Penelope Gibbs: What we want is effective approaches to preventing and stopping anti-social behaviour by children.
Mr Winnick: Indeed.
Penelope Gibbs: What we are keen on is all those that involve co-operation to be tried definitely first and foremost, and we are convinced that if those approaches are quality approaches with an evidence base, then the hard-and-fast punishment would not be needed.
Q115 Bridget Phillipson: On the issue of children, with the constituency cases I have dealt with around children they have always been connected to the behaviour of their parents. The difficulty is that often neighbours are struggling to have sympathy when their lives have been made hell, no matter how understanding they have tried to be about the behaviour of children and the reasons for their behaviour. Do you think there is a way we could better involve victims in this so that they have an understanding about the work that is being done with the family without breaching confidence? Neighbours sometimes will say, "Well, I’ve reported it. I’m told that there is a social worker seeing the family, I am told that there is work being done, but it is not leading to any results, and I do not know what is happening". I think that lack of information can sometimes be quite difficult for victims to deal with.
Ellen Broome: One of the hopes I had for this Bill was that it was going look more at the root causes of ASBOs and look at community conflict when that was present. We know from our projects and the work that we do with families and with children that the community conferencing or family mediation approaches work well and are very effective in producing more long-term sustainable solutions for reducing anti-social behaviour. That is something that I would welcome: more clarity from the Government in terms of how they would like that to happen.
Penelope Gibbs: In addition, I would go back to restorative justice and say when that is done properly-clearly, details of the family’s issue are not put in the public domain, but it does give the opportunity for the victim to have a little bit of insight because the family, as well as the perpetrator, would have an opportunity to talk about why the behaviour is happening. That is a possible route.
Ellen Broome: I would just add to that. If you involve children and young people with the victims and with families, they can learn to understand how their behaviour is impacting on other people and therefore be encouraged to change that.
Chair: Thank you very much for coming to give evidence. You obviously have a vast amount of experience that can be very helpful to the Committee. If there were any other areas you think that we should look at in respect of this Bill, please feel free to write to us, and we will then pursue the matter with you. Thank you very much.
There has just been a change in the order of our next two witnesses. We are putting them together, although it is advertised as one after the other. If I could call to the dais Liz Walker as well as Javed Khan, the Chief Executive of Victim Support.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Liz Walker, Redoubt, and Javed Khan, Chief Executive, Victim Support, gave evidence.
Q116 Chair: Ms Walker and Mr Khan, thank you very much for giving evidence today. Ms Walker, we have read about the terrible circumstances that you faced over the period October 2007 until May 2008.
Liz Walker: It went on longer than that. That was just the ones that I highlighted for you.
Chair: Right. Obviously others have been in the position as you have, but very few people are prepared to come to a Select Committee of the House and tell us what happened. We have read some of those circumstances. What I want to ask you first of all is: who could have prevented this? Which agencies or individuals could have stepped in and stopped this horrendous treatment of yourself and your husband? Is it the police? Is it the council? Who are the agencies who could have made your life better?
Liz Walker: I think the first agency who could have prevented it could have been the judiciary. When they gave the family, in particular the one main family, a suspended order of possession they did so with compromises; those compromises being that the two oldest sons were not to live at the house. Nobody monitored whether those compromises were being met. Nobody monitored the family. If the judge had said when that edict was made, "We are giving you a suspended order of possession on condition that the two older sons do not live at the house, and you, the Housing Department, and you, the police authority, will go around on a regular basis and maintain checks, you will do unannounced visits, and you will make sure that for the next 12 months that this suspended order of possession is in place and it is abided by", if that had happened, a family that was driven out before us, quite violently from what I can gather, would not have been driven out. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayer’s money would have been saved and, if you listened to my husband, you would have saved him and me £30,000.
Q117 Chair: The system is clearly broken. It has happened to you. From what you have seen since the terrible circumstances that you found yourself in, have you seen an improvement in this broken system?
Liz Walker: It is a seesaw. I am not going to pick any particular region, but there are issues across the country where you have members of staff who are entrenched in old behaviours and old habits. There are local councillors who, when you phone them up to say that Mr and Mrs Bloggs at 49 Acacia Avenue are having anti-social behaviour, will say, "Oh no, that is in my street. They don’t have anti-social behaviour there". Then you see some incredibly good pieces of work going on. I gave training to a housing association in Plymouth and spoke to a housing officer there who, on discovering that one of their witnesses who lived in Cornwall could not get to court on the day that the case was being heard, despite it being her day off, drove down to Cornwall, picked the witness up, took them to court, stayed with them at court and then took them home again. It is that whole thing of the balance.
Sadly, recently, I am sure some of you will have read about the inquest that has just reached a verdict of suicide on Dr Dow. What concerns me is the fact that right at the beginning people are sometimes listed as, "Oh, they are vulnerable", or, "Oh, they are not vulnerable". Nobody could have been less not vulnerable than Dr Dow, who was-
Chair: Just for the purpose of the record, you are talking about Dr Suzanne Dow, a lecturer in French at Nottingham University, who killed herself after suffering anti-social behaviour from the crack-house next door. What you are telling this Committee is what you have been through is still going on?
Liz Walker: It is still going on.
Q118 Chair: We have had obviously Fiona Pilkington in Leicestershire, now Suzanne Dow, and yourselves. Can I just explore with you the position of the police and where you think the failings were as far as the police were concerned?
Liz Walker: The police made failings at the beginning with the response team that first came out to the initial incident. I have to say in praise of the Chief Constable at that time, Brian Moore and I believe Inspector Paul Howlett, as soon as they were made aware of the difficulties that we faced, not only did they put them right, they visited us in our own home to see us and reassure us. They threw it back to us and asked us to take part in training for their officers and their call handlers and everyone else that dealt with members of the public.
Q119 Chair: The people right at the top were very supportive, but you felt the people you complained to did not respond?
Liz Walker: Initially, but Brian Moore did bring in-and I saw changes in a matter of weeks with the Wiltshire Police where they changed that. To quote my MP at the time, Michael Wills, "Wiltshire Police have it. They have it, and they can understand it". Although there are still sometimes not necessarily the best of responses or the best or most rapid of actions, sometimes that is down to deployment of officers. Sometimes that is down to needs elsewhere. Sometimes it is down to officers just not fully understanding or being made aware of the situation.
Q120 Chair: If this Bill was in existence as law, do you think that this would have happened to you, or are you satisfied that the provisions of this Bill would have protected you?
Liz Walker: I am not 100% satisfied. I am concerned that the Bill does not cover enough private tenants and private owner/occupiers, and there is a lot of anti-social behaviour that goes on unreported from people who are private tenants themselves or private owners, in particular private owners who are concerned about the equity of their house, if they report anti-social behaviour. They will approach other agencies and report it unofficially to someone who can help them and support them, but they will not want it listed because of their fear for the equity in their house. They can also be unsupported by their neighbours who are afraid for the equity in their houses. I am concerned that the-sorry, could I look this up?
Chair: Yes, of course.
Liz Walker: One of the concerns I had was raised very capably by Francis Maples, a Swindon Borough solicitor, and I know he has put it in writing, so he probably says it better than I do, but I attended court 16 times and my husband attended court 16 times. The police attended court 15 times. Housing officers and social behaviour investigating officers attended court 15 times. If what you are saying about splitting it and children under the age of 18 go to Youth Court and are dealt with there and that this is dealt with mostly in a county court, that then puts an extreme pressure on victims. Getting a victim in to give evidence is very difficult. It is traumatic doing that. It is very traumatic.
Chair: That is why we are very grateful to you for coming here. Before I move on to Mr Khan, I have a question from both David Winnick and then Bridget Phillipson.
Q121 Mr Winnick: We are all very deeply concerned and sympathetic, to say the least, for what you had to go through-none of us would want to do so. In a previous question to witnesses I used the word "agony", and I think that would be an apt description of what we have read of the experience you suffered. I just want at this stage to ask a question arising from what you said, if I heard you correctly. You said that you had contacted elected councillors. Am I right?
Liz Walker: Yes.
Q122 Mr Winnick: They said, in so many words, that there was not a problem where you were. Is that right?
Liz Walker: Yes.
Q123 Mr Winnick: I ask that question because in the data that has been given to us it has that on 19 October you were given a lift home from the MP’s surgery by a councillor and on arrival disturbed a group of youths. That councillor, as well as the Member of Parliament, saw for themselves, did they not, what was happening?
Liz Walker: That was in our case. The case that I spoke about with you was in another case where we were supporting other victims. When I phoned the victim’s local councillor to ask for their assistance in the case that was the reaction I got. In fact their exact words were, "We were canvassing there last week. We know that is a nice road". I was not very happy when I put the phone down.
Q124 Mr Winnick: But when that incident occurred, as mentioned here, there was the MP and the councillor?
Liz Walker: The councillor witnessed it and the councillor offered-I think it was Councillor Bourne at the time-to give evidence. Again, I cannot fault Michael Wills and his secretary in particular, Anne Bennett, who offered us so much support.
Mr Winnick: Thank you.
Q125 Bridget Phillipson: This may not have applied in your case, but what I am sometimes told is that where a victim complains often the perpetrator comes to understand that the victim is going to complain and can sometimes make counter-allegations, and then you end up in the position of that being mischaracterised as a dispute between neighbours and mediation is then recommended. Constituents have told me sometimes that they are very reluctant to engage in mediation because they feel it is not a dispute. They are on the receiving end of behaviour, and they have often tried to resolve it informally for some time. What do you think about that?
Liz Walker: No, I think that is a fair statement, and what I would like to see is more investigators and housing officers looking at the balance of probabilities. If someone presents them with a list of incidents on 1 October and then, on being approached, the perpetrator comes back and says, "Oh, they have done this, this and this", you need to look at why, if one person has come with a list of incidents-you do not give evidence and you do not complain about anti-social behaviour lightly. It is a last straw. You do the informal thing. You do everything you can possible to try to resolve it and minimise the situation, because everyone knows how bad it can get. I know of one case where a couple went away on holiday and, while they were away on holiday, their neighbour then made a complaint that they had done something while they were away on holiday. Fortunately, they were not even in the same county at the same time, but it just goes to emphasise the balance of probabilities. When that complaint was raised by the victims and they said, "Look, this is what is happening, we were on holiday", they said, "Oh you can’t prove that". It is that whole thing of sometimes there needs to be good old-fashioned common sense. It needs to be almost like dealing with children; "Well, they would say-wouldn’t they".
Q126 Chair: Thank you. Mr Khan, this must be your daily fare. As Chief Executive of the Victim Support organisation you must have this kind of problem every single day of your working life. Is that right? You have victims coming in talking about anti-social behaviour?
Javed Khan: Unfortunately, it seems a fact, from all of our experience over decades having done this work and supported millions of victims, that the breadth and range of support for anti-social behaviour victims just is not good enough. Of course, there is a distinction between anti-social behaviour that is a criminal act and that which is a non-criminal act. Unfortunately, to the victim that is an arbitrary dividing line. If you are the victim of anti-social behaviour, whether it is in your home or it is in your street or personalised or not, it matters little to you whether it is a crime officially or not. It can destroy your life. It can damage your well-being, your mental health, your ability to have a social life, your working life and every aspect of that. Unfortunately, we see that day in and day out.
Q127 Chair: Yes. Obviously we are all constituency MPs, so we have people who come to us with exactly the problems that you have so eloquently outlined. Is this something that is on the increase or the decrease? This is a general feel. You may not have statistics, but what do you feel? Do you think it is going up or going down?
Javed Khan: It is a very difficult question to answer without statistics.
Chair: If you have them, then we are happy to have them.
Javed Khan: We can send you whatever we have. You might find it helpful.
Chair: What do they tell you?
Javed Khan: I think the issue is that we are more aware now than we have ever been before. Anti-social behaviour is more of an issue than it has ever been before, and that might explain why we are more aware and why there is a gut feeling that incidents are increasing. They may not necessarily be increasing, so I would not necessarily present that to you as a fact.
Q128 Dr Huppert: Thank you to both of you. Part of the vision of this is to place the victim far more at the centre. Do you think it does enough to do that, or what changes would you like to see to this Bill?
Liz Walker: I would like to see a section put into that Bill that makes every borough and every authority that investigates anti-social behaviour have a legal obligation to support a victim. Not just a guideline; I would like to see it benchmarked, I would like to see it auditable, and I would like to see someone responsible for making sure victims are okay. I want someone legally responsible for the victims’ protection.
Q129 Dr Huppert: At the council level?
Liz Walker: At every level; I would like to see it in law, and I would be happy to help work on that. There is now corporate manslaughter. There is health and safety law. There are all sorts of laws that have been brought in. I think the first law to protect children was brought in under the Animal Act. We have a team around family, a team around the child, a team around the perpetrator, but we have nothing in law encompassed as a team around a victim, and I would like to see a mandatory responsibility for every council in the land to protect victims and offer victims a valid and genuine service.
Q130 Dr Huppert: Mr Khan, your organisation provides a lot of this support already. Would you agree with Ms Walker?
Javed Khan: In principle, yes. Let me give you a general comment, and then I will come back and comment specifically on the Bill. Anti-social behaviour victims need the anti-social behaviour prevented. They need to be convinced that it is going to be tackled and appropriate punishment, whatever that may be, but they also need some action that is nothing to do with the perpetrator, and it is important that there is a distinction.
There are some common needs of victims that we are very aware of. Firstly, they need clear and timely communication about the case. Liz’s example earlier on was that she was not getting that, and we hear that all the time. That is nothing to do with the offender. They need a harm-based response that identifies vulnerable and repeat victimisation and the risks of that; so, a detailed risk assessment for all victims. Then they need independent support, independent of the statutory agencies, the sort of support that we and many other agencies up and down the country provide. Having said that, in terms of the Bill, if I may go on to that, we broadly welcome-
Q131 Dr Huppert: Just before you do, can I just finish off on this particular point? How do you think one could deliver this? Is it about providing further funding to you, guarantees of national support, making councils generate their own local organisations-how would you deliver the aspiration that you seem to share?
Javed Khan: I think there is a mixture of ways. The Bill in itself must not been seen as the panacea. It can’t solve all of the anti-social behaviour problems. We have some specific suggestions or redrafting that we think needs to happen to help these services to be delivered, but a critical point too is that from next year victim services funding will be in the hands of police and crime commissioners. They will have a great opportunity to identify the gaps in the way that we are sharing with you today, to prioritise those in their local plans and then deliver the funding to make that work happen. Whether it is the council or whether it is some other local agency, the police and crime commissioners will have the resources to make this support happen.
Q132 Dr Huppert: Okay, and then if you want to move on to the Bill-
Javed Khan: On to the Bill; we broadly welcome it. The fact that the Bill has an intention to present the addressing of anti-social behaviour and to make it much more responsive to victims is very welcome. It is the first time we have seen this written in this way. But the proposals need to be seen in the wider context, as I was just describing, around tackling anti-social behaviour and particularly the support and communication needs of victims that are not necessarily directly covered by the Bill.
In principle we support the introduction of a community trigger and a community remedy, although we have some serious concerns about the way in which those two need to operate and hope that they can be addressed as the Bill is scrutinised. There needs to be far more clarity around the thresholds for the community trigger. We need safeguards against the victims.
Chair: If I could just stop you there, it is a very important list for us that I am sure Dr Huppert will want to explore, on the community trigger.
Q133 Dr Huppert: Indeed, because you suggested a qualitative test, as I understand.
Javed Khan: Yes.
Dr Huppert: Can you say a bit more about this? We are quite interested in the community trigger. We heard last week from three authorities who had very different versions of it. How do you think this whole system should work so it is not too sensitive a trigger but helps victims?
Javed Khan: Yes. The issue is, as I am sure you will understand, that as the Bill stands at the moment there will be local control over whatever the thresholds may be. We think that that introduces unnecessary inconsistency, potentially, and that is a risk. Victims will not know what they can challenge when different rules are made in different places.
The proposed test is really confusing. If I may just quote, it talks about setting the threshold in a way that takes into account "either the persistence of the anti-social behaviour about which the original complaint was made or the adequacy of the response to that behaviour". I can’t understand how it means one or the other. Surely it should be both, and most importantly there is a-
Q134 Chair: Stopping you there, one of the big things you want is clarity of this issue?
Javed Khan: Yes, absolute clarity.
Chair: It is a very important issue.
Javed Khan: Yes, it should not be one or the other. It should be both; and there should be a third element, and the third element has to be about the impact on the victim. That does not seem to exist at all in the draft proposals. Our approach to a qualitative test will be a test of a clear risk of harm to the individual. That should be the starting point, and that currently is not what is proposed.
Q135 Chair: Just putting that straight to one of the victims who has been through it before, is that enough for you? Would that have been enough for you?
Liz Walker: Certainly, looking at the reaction of agencies in particular, to have the ability to go to anyone and say, "I have complained about this; this is what has happened. I am not happy about this; what can be done?" and know that instead of having someone saying, "Oh well, it doesn’t really meet-" knowing that you have a qualitative test where, "Yes, you know you have been failed. This isn’t right". People do not want to go through the whole route of going all the way up to an ombudsman to get something done. They don’t even want to complain to get something done. They just want to be able to phone up and say, "You said you were going to do this. Have you done this? Why hasn’t it been done?"
Q136 Chair: Mr Khan, I am coming in on Dr Huppert’s questions, and please feel free to come back, Dr Huppert. The community remedy and the list of punishments: do you think the victims, generally speaking, should be involved in choosing the punishment?
Liz Walker: Yes.
Chair: You do; certainly.
Liz Walker: My husband was very offended that out of the two cautions, of which one is a normal caution and the other is a caution where the victim makes some recompense, whether that is writes a letter to say sorry or has to do something, the person that broke the window of his car that started all this was just given a normal caution.
Q137 Chair: You are happy with the community remedy that is in the Bill?
Liz Walker: Where it is appropriate and appropriate to the victim; where it is appropriate, yes.
Chair: Mr Khan?
Javed Khan: Yes, but we need to understand what is being proposed here in that this is a pre-set list of potential remedies that are for low-level anti-social behaviour only. This is not relevant for those cases that are more serious or those that are going direct to court to be tried; so, in that context, yes.
Q138 Dr Huppert: But it does not allow what Ms Walker was talking about, which is for the victim to choose a remedy that is not on that list. It has to be pre-approved.
Javed Khan: That is not what is proposed at the moment. We have two particular suggestions around the remedy, if I may. Firstly, we would like to see the optional nature of the victims’ participation set out far more explicitly. It is not compulsory at the moment for the victim to be involved.
Dr Huppert: You think it should be?
Javed Khan: It should be.
Q139 Dr Huppert: It should be compulsory for the victim to be involved in whatever is suggested?
Javed Khan: Given that, at the moment, the proposal is that the victim can put in a request of which from that menu is most appropriate, and it does not have to be agreed by a police officer if it is inappropriate, for example, within the confines of that, the victim’s request should be taken into consideration, and there are some very good reasons for that. It makes no sense to us at all that anything should be imposed on a victim at any stage. If it is not suitable to them, it is not suitable.
We would suggest that the Bill should include a specific clause outlining the fact that victims must have a free choice not to participate if they do not feel it is appropriate to them. Any option that involves contact between the victim and the offender-the responsible officer must conduct a detailed risk assessment, and if it is not part of what the victim has requested, then it should not be the way forward.
Q140 Bridget Phillipson: Just in terms of both the trigger and the remedy, you have talked about some of the areas it needs to be further clarified. If the trigger was set at a certain level, do you think that might perversely mean that agencies might then wait until they have reached that level rather than acting immediately? Obviously at the moment there is not a trigger as such, although there are different ways of measuring it. Surely victims want action taken if it is the first time or the 20th time.
Javed Khan: Absolutely, and the first time is very serious for some people and for some it is not. That is why what we are arguing for is a personalised response where the individual victim is treated as an individual and there is not a pre-set trigger as such, except that a harm-based risk assessment, which is agreed by the HMIC as the right way forward-ACPO think it is the right thing to do. There are pilots running around the country at the moment based on that where a set of indicators determine what the action should be and, within that, can be the number of times it has taken place, but it should not be the only factor. Vulnerability should be the critical factor, for example.
Q141 Bridget Phillipson: Just on one other area, the cases I have that take the longest time to resolve and the most protracted are those concerning private-sector landlords. Agencies such as social-housing providers are far better now, I think, at responding to anti-social behaviour and working with the police and councils, but where it is most difficult is with private-sector landlords, who just will not engage in the process. The Bill does not cover this area too well in my opinion. What more do you think we can do to make sure that private-sector landlords are held responsible or there is some kind of arrangement in place to make sure that actions of their tenants lead somewhere and you do not simply have that being ignored because they are not a social tenant?
Javed Khan: The harm-based risk assessment that I am talking about should apply in all circumstances. There should be no get out clauses for that, and that would cover rented housing as well as any other.
Liz Walker: I think just putting in something that makes it plain that, just as housing authorities or housing associations are legally liable for the actions of their tenants, private landlords need to be so. But going back to the trigger, I think one of the things that needs to be remembered is that it is very rare that a victim phones the first time an incident happens. It is normally the 30th or 40th time. They have tried every other avenue first to resolve the situation before they make a complaint. I think something that needs to be looked at with the trigger is the quantity of incidents that have happened to make them call.
Javed Khan: I think that is a critical point, if I may. Victims do not turn to the authorities straight away. It happens in all sorts of issues of crime, not just anti-social behaviour. But what is going to make them turn and report it is confidence in what response they are going to get at the very first point. How good is the response going to be? How caring will it be? Then, the follow-on support from that: communication and referrals to independent support, which is non-statutory based.
Q142 Mr Winnick: You both say that the victims should have some say in what should be done about the culprit, but in a society fortunately based on the rule of law, what is wrong if the person concerned allegedly-it has to be allegedly until proven guilty in court-is brought before a court and the court so decides? That is the first question. I will put the second question at the same time. If it is left to various options, which is indeed in the draft legislation, how do we know that it will be enforced on a community basis?
Javed Khan: Firstly, I do not think the community remedy delivers impartial justice, if I can paraphrase what you are saying. The victim’s range of options is pre-set in consultation. They are limited to the six, and those are agreed by the local police force, hopefully in consultation with victims. That is not something that is requested at the moment. We would strongly suggest that should happen.
Q143 Mr Winnick: And enforcement?
Javed Khan: The enforcement responsibility rests with the police and the police and crime commissioners have to be accountable for that.
Liz Walker: Can I just say, enforcement is essential because, as a victim, what victims want is justice and what they get is the law. They are two very different things. If a victim agrees that the person who has just damaged their garage, broken the windows and scrawled graffiti all over it, is going to replace the glass and repaint the garage and then six months down the line nothing has happened, what happens then? There has to be enforcement of agreements.
Q144 Chair: Indeed. Ms Walker, you have set up your own organisation called Redoubt, and I know that your local Member of Parliament, Robert Buckland, has been telling me about all the good work that you have done there. Indeed, he wished to be at this session today and he recommended you as one of our witnesses. We wish you well in that organisation, and we say to you if there is further information or evidence that you can give to this Committee, we would be very pleased to receive it.
Mr Khan, from your point of view, can I ask you two very quick questions. One is about the Louise Casey troubled families unit. Ms Casey has given evidence to us before, and we will be seeing her again. Do you have anything to do with them? Have they ever asked you for your views or opinions?
Javed Khan: Not to date.
Chair: So you do not know what they are doing?
Javed Khan: I know what they are doing.
Chair: But they haven’t talked to you?
Javed Khan: They haven’t talked to us. Not yet.
Q145 Chair: Secondly, when you last appeared before us I think you talked about the changes that the Government was making to Victim Support, taking away the hub of it and making it much more regional and local. Is that still happening?
Javed Khan: It is still due to happen by April 2014. In the context of what we have been talking about, it is a critical move. The services that have previously been nationally commissioned and have developed a consistency of response to victims across all parts of England and Wales will now be in the control of 42 local police and crime commissioners, if you include London.
Q146 Chair: Exactly, and it is the issue of data and good practice. What everyone else is doing is centralising. What the CPS has done, for example, in child grooming-another inquiry we are involved in-is they are centralising; whereas it seems to be decentralised in the case of Victim Support. Has the Justice Committee asked for your view on this?
Javed Khan: The Justice Committee has looked at it. There has not been a detailed hearing on it. We look forward to an opportunity to explain the implications of what is coming.
Chair: Of course. I will write to the Chairman, Sir Alan Beith, and suggest that he looks into this as well on behalf of the Committee, because it is something that is concerning us, especially in view of the fact that something can happen in Leicestershire and the people in London do not know about it. There needs to be this national approach.
Thank you both very much for coming. If you have any further information that is relevant to the Committee, please let us know. Thank you very much.
Javed Khan: Thank you.