Here’s how the UK should pursue its war against young people.
By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 29th June 2010
They have proved to be an effective means of dealing with the epidemic of youth on our streets. But now that acoustic dispersal devices are likely to be banned, how will we tackle one of this country’s most distressing and pervasive crimes: being young in a public place?
Acoustic deterrence was, until recently, used only to repel rats, mice and cockroaches. But thanks to an invention by the former British Aerospace engineer Howard Stapleton(1) it is now just as effective at discouraging human vermin. The Mosquito youth dispersal device, manufactured by Compound Security Systems(2), produces a loud, high-pitched whine that can be heard strongly only by children and teenagers, and not at all by people over 25. It allows councils to keep children out of public places, making them safe for law-abiding citizens. It enables shop-keepers to determine who should and should not be permitted to use the streets. It ensures that society is not subjected, among other intrusions, to the unpleasant and distressing noises that youths are inclined to make.
A survey by the Guardian shows that 25% of local authorities in the UK use or have used these machines in their attempts to discourage the youthwave(3). Altogether, 3500 Mosquitos have been sold here, far more than in any other country(4). The product’s success is one of many signs of the enlightened attitudes to the menace of childhood which distinguish the United Kingdom from less civilised parts of the world. But last week the bleeding hearts in the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly unanimously recommended that acoustic deterrents be banned from public places, on the preposterous grounds that they discriminate against young people and deny their right to free assembly(5).
In a blatant attempt at emotional blackmail, the council’s parliament contends that, as well as causing distress to teenagers whether they are wearing hooded tops or not, these devices cause “dramatic reactions” in many younger children, particularly babies, who often “cry or shout out and cover their ears, to the surprise of their parents, who, unaware of the noise, do not know why.” Nor, it says, do we yet know what impact high-frequency noise has on unborn children.
Really, who cares?
This is just the sort of Eurotrash we have come to expect from the fat cats of Strasbourg. Happily their decision is not binding, but it can be only a matter of time before the pressure on our legislators – especially high-pitched whining from do-gooders such as the Children’s Rights Alliance for England(6) – becomes intolerable, and they cave in to the forces of political correctness.
What this will mean is that the police, councils and owners of property will be deprived of an essential weapon in the fight against youth. Youth statistics might be improving, but there are still far too many occasions on which young people venture out of their homes, sometimes in concert. It is true that the police have specific, if limited, powers to deal with individual cases. Admittedly the United Kingdom has one of the world’s most enlightened policies on the age of criminal responsibility. Children can be tried and imprisoned here at the age of ten. This is four years younger than in China, whose government is notoriously soft on crime, and six years younger than in the pinko, wet-blanket state of Texas(7). Admittedly, we have more child prisoners than any other country in Europe(8), and behaviour laws – ASBOs, extrajudicial fines, house arrest for excluded children(9), £5000 fines for the parents of anti-social toddlers(10) – that dictatorships can only dream of.
But while these measures offer society some protection against actual offences, they do nothing to address the general issue of young people in our midst. Worse, they attempt to draw a distinction between criminals and teenagers. As everyone over the age of 40 knows, this distinction is a false one. Now that the MosquitoTM is likely to be excluded from the armoury, now that police officers may no longer respond to the incidence of youth with a simple cuff round the ear, or a falling down the stairs or out of a police station window, how will Britain deal with this menace?
The authorities have been seeking creative solutions, but none meets the challenge we face. Some councils have imported an idea pioneered in Australia whose purpose is to disperse teenagers from public places: playing the songs of Barry Manilow over their loudspeaker systems(11,12). The problem with the Manilow Method is that it is too blunt an instrument, as it disperses everyone except the hard of hearing.
Youth curfews, introduced by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998(13), and dispersal orders, brought into effect by the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003(14), go some of the way towards tackling the problem, but they require the active involvement of the police, and apply only where and when they have been implemented. There is as yet no universal provision against those who insist, often in active collaboration with others, on being young people in public view.
I have a modest proposal for dealing with this problem. While forestalling sterner measures which might otherwise be deployed to address the troubling existence of youth, it enables good citizens to go about their lives at liberty. It also prevents young people from getting into trouble and ending up in the worst situation of all: the horror and humiliation of prison, where their golden years are blighted and they fall into the clutches of people ready to exploit them.
I propose that from school age onwards young people should, for the good of themselves and society, be kept in a safe, secure environment, under supervision and out of situations that might tempt them into trouble. Each would be given a small room, simple but comfortable, which in some cases they might share with another. They would be permitted one hour of exercise a day in a purpose-built yard offering appropriate facilities.
Besides schooling, occupations would be designed to keep them busy and happy, and prevent them from engaging in the kind of group activities the citizens of this country deplore. These pastimes might include assembling bags of the kind used for postal deliveries. They would also be offered the opportunity to pursue vocational qualifications, particularly in the subsurface fossil fuel extraction and smokeduct cleansing industries.
This firm but fair treatment programme will consolidate the policies the last government introduced in a piecemeal and incoherent fashion, reverse the disastrous social experiment of the past 100 years, which unleashed the youthwave onto our streets, and make devices such as the MosquitoTM redundant, useful as they are in the current legislative vacuum. It will ensure that the youth class ceases to blight the lives of law-abiding owners of property.
Juvenile citizens would be restrained from engaging with society until they have learnt to shoulder the burden of respect and responsibility this entails. By this means we will rear the young people we all want to see: happy, well-adjusted, out of sight and out of mind.
9. Education and Inspections Act 2006, Section 103. http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2006/ukpga_20060040_en_11#pt7-ch2-pb2-l1g103
10. Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, Schedule 10. http://www.opsi.gov.uk/Acts/acts2005/ukpga_20050015_en_29_content.htm
11. Charlotte Walsh, August 2008. The Mosquito: A Repellent Response. Youth Justice vol. 8 no. 2 122-133. doi: 10.1177/1473225408091373
13. Crime and Disorder Act 1998, Section 14. http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1998/ukpga_19980037_en_2#pt1-ch1-pb3-l1g14
14. Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, Section 30. http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2003/ukpga_20030038_en_5#pt4-l1g30