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Saturday, 28 March 2009

Henbury Crime Public Meeting

I had become sickened and frustrated by the apparently huge discrepancy between what was officially the state of youth crime in Henbury, and what people actually living in Henbury were telling me.

I'd spoken to Charlie Barron, who's resigning from Henbury Football Club because he is simply tired out of coming to the club to find it vandalised again. I'd spoken to people who'd had kids taking drugs in their back garden who were too afraid to do anything. I've been trying to help vulnerable residents get rehoused because they are bullied to the point they are prisoners in their own homes...

Against that back-drop, I'm afraid I find it hard to believe that home-secretary Jacqui Smith had fully understood what people are going through when she came to Henbury, trailed by the local Labour party, last Autumn to say how great everything was.

I know people are working hard - I work with them where I can. I know lots of good stuff is being done - but that does not mean that the views and experiences of people living in Henbury can simply be white-washed over with statistics, initiatives, Ministerial visits, and official reassurances that Henbury is an 'inspirational example' ( as Jacqui Smith said.)

That's one reason why I called a public meeting - to get out in the open what is really going on. The other reason was to pool all the suggestions and comments together to come up with a plan of action.

When I asked the audience how many of them thought the underlying causes of the problem was that discipline seems to have become a dirty word; police don't have the powers they need, but all the paperwork they don't need; and that human-rights legislation has been absurdly abused to place the welfare of the criminal about that of the victim, nearly everyone raised their hand. But changing that culture and in places the law, is a job for government. In the meantime, there are things we can do:

1. Get the Youth Centre reopened, every night, offering diverse and exciting activities. Ensure that local young people are responsible for decorating and building the centre, so they feel they own it.
2. Press for more police, out on the streets more - not just around Crow Lane, but around other trouble spots as well.
3. Really clamp down hard on alcohol outlets that sell drink to underage kids.
4. Whatever happened to real zero-tolerance? We need it back.

And we haven't got time for all this to be done through a cloud of initiatives and a jungle of agencies and a confusion of a proliferation of partnerships. It needs to be done swiftly and decisively.

Something that's often forgotten in all this, is that it is a minority of young people who give a bad name to all the rest. Two young people from Henbury school - Amy Hillier and Joel Bowd, spoke to the meeting about how fed up they were with a minority wrecking everything for the majority, and how many young people are as afraid of the antisocial behaviour as the adults. It's worth remembering that although a minority of young people are the problem, the majority can be part of the solution.

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