Asbo: The end of an era
Published: 23rd May 2012 10:50:36
Ministers are scrapping the anti-social behaviour order, but its acronym - immortalised via countless nicknames and T-shirt slogans - will take longer to shift from British common parlance. So why did Asbos capture the imagination?
In 2005 a new word entered both the Oxford and Collins English dictionaries. Four letters and two syllables long, it was concise and instantly memorable - Asbo.
It stood for anti-social behaviour order, a legal mechanism first introduced across England, Scotland and Wales in 1998.
But very quickly it came to mean something altogether more.
Perhaps it was the acronym's brevity and rhythm. Or it might have been to do with burgeoning unease about social breakdown.
Either way, Asbo quickly became shorthand for anything to do with disruptive, antagonistic behaviour contrary to societal norms.
Headline-writers seized upon the term with gusto. A mini-industry flourished selling T-shirts, hoodies and even babies' playsuits emblazoned with Asbo-related slogans.
Bands were formed with names like Asbo and The Asbo Kid, the freshly minted word offering a suggestion of rebelliousness and up-to-the-minute savvy.
The trend extended to the animal kingdom. An American pit bull cross shot dead by police marksmen after it mauled a baby in south London was the subject of widespread press attention after it emerged the dog's owner had named it Asbo.
Two years later an aggressive swan which attacked a series of rowers on the River Cam in Cambridgeshire was, inevitably, christened Mr Asbo in by the media.
But then concerns began to be expressed that those "Asbo" t-shirts were not only being sported by individuals with a keenly-developed sense of irony. In 2006, a report by the Youth Justice Board suggested the order had become a "badge of honour" to some.
Critics argued over whether it was a symbol of the Blair government's creeping authoritarianism or a godsend for communities blighted by a minority of nuisance neighbours.
Either way, Asbos had made the leap from legal jargon into popular culture.
An egg-collector was banned in February 2012 from travelling to Scotland for 10 years during the nesting season after he admitted to 10 charges of theft and possession of rare eggs, including those of the Golden Eagle (pictured above).
Two pensioners were banned from feeding pigeons or buying more than three loaves of bread a day in Trowbridge in January 2012. A council spokesperson attributed the scale of the town's "pigeon problem" to "excessive feeding by three individuals".
A 50-year-old woman received an Asbo in 2005 after attacking her elderly brother with a stick of rhubarb. The attack was said to be the latest instalment in a long-standing family feud.
Farmer Brian Hagan was given an Asbo after naughty pigs kept breaking loose and climbing under his fence. Neighbours complained but the order was later withdrawn owing to scant evidence.
Now the government has announced plans to scrap them and six related orders, replacing them with the less-euphonious CBOs (Criminal Behaviour Orders) and CPIs (Crime Prevention Injuctions).
But it may take longer to shift the word itself from conversational English.
"As acronyms go, it's an easy one to pronounce," says Charlotte Brewer, professor of English language and literature at Hertford College, Oxford. "If you're reading an article it jumps out of the page at you.
"It's not that it was describing a new phenomenon - people have always behaved badly to their neighbours. But sometimes a word just takes off."
Certainly, there were plenty of Asbos that captured the imagination. A Wearside woman banned from having noisy sex with her husband, an 87-year-old ordered to stop playing her Glenn Miller records too loudly and a man banned from sniffing petrol on forecourts in Teeside all secured reams of column inches for the orders.
But some argue that the acronym caught on because it reflected a common sense of malaise. The year 2005 saw another word added to the Collins English Dictionary - chav, defined as "a young working class person who dresses in casual sports clothing".
According to Peter Squires, professor of criminology and public policy at the University of Brighton, both terms were popularised at a time when the poorest in Britain were increasingly set apart from the rest of society and demonised.
"It was a media phenomenon - Vicky Pollard, Jeremy Kyle, this intense scrutiny of the underclass," he says. "And then you had Asbo t-shirts. It became an alternative cultural icon."
Nonetheless, Squires believes that, although overall crime rates were falling in this period, genuine frustrations about anti-social behaviour and the failure of the authorities to tackle it were widespread.
"What was preoccupying people was a range of low-level nuisances that the police didn't prioritise," Squires adds.
"It's the idea of the short, sharp shock - a metaphorical clip around the ears. The Asbo had that element of quick and dirty justice. That was part of its populist appeal."
This certainly won the system many supporters in areas affected by anti-social behaviour. For nearly two years Lesley Pullman, 63, had to endure with near-constant noise and harassment before she helped secure Asbos against a gang who congregated around a house in her street in New Moston, Manchester.
Residents who complained were subjected to intimidation and Pullman's car was regularly vandalised. But as a result of the orders - secured directly as a result of campaigns by local people - two troublemakers were jailed, and the torment ceased.
*Applies to England and Wales
"It was like a magic wand round here," she says. "It was the first time in my life that legislation was brought out specifically for communities. It was empowering."
For sceptics, however, Asbos were an illiberal mechanism to target behaviour that would not ordinarily warrant criminal prosecution.
Civil libertarians protested that the orders undermined Labour's promise to be "tough on the causes of crime" and tacitly encouraged vigilantism.
"They made us a more judgemental, censorious country," Squires says. "But I'm not sure they were very effective at all."
As evidence he cites Youth Justice Board research suggesting that after being imposed, half of all Asbos were broken.
For Pullman, however, this was not evidence of failure but proof that firm action needed to be taken against the perpetrators - a mechanism that she says would not have existed without Asbos.
"We expected (the orders) to be breached," she says. "These were repeat offenders, after all.
"But the badge of honour stuff was rubbish. It's just bravado - the perpetrators hate them. You see it in their faces when they go into court. That's why they get their solicitors to fight them so hard."
The public's own attitude towards them was curiously counter-intuitive. A Mori poll in 2005 suggested that 82% supported Asbos, despite the fact that only 39% believed they were effective.
Now, of course, their days are numbered. Ministers say Asbos are overly bureaucratic to impose and that crime should be treated as crime.
In their place, the government says its new orders will be available at an earlier stage of bad behaviour and be easier and faster to use. They are also piloting a "community trigger", whereby police would be forced to respond if five households complain, or the same individual complains three times.
Even before the Conservative-Liberal coalition came to power, the government had fallen out of love with the Asbo. The year 2006 saw the number issued drop by 34%. In 2008, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith called for greater use of "early intervention" measures, echoing remarks by Children's Secretary Ed Balls that he wanted to live in a society that "puts Asbos behind us".
Despite this, the term itself shows little sign of departing the national discourse.
"This interesting thing is, when it disappears judicially, whether the word will stay," says Brewer.
If it does, popular culture's attachment to this handy acronym might tell us yet more about modern Britain.
Existing powers on the left, proposed powers on the right
Key: CRASBO = Criminal Anti-Social Behaviour Order; DBO = Drink Banning Order; CR DBO = Drink Banning Order on Conviction; ASBI = Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction; ISO = Individual Support Order; IO = Intervention Order.
At 23:03:47 in SportManchester United "made mistakes" last season under David Moyes, according to club legend Sir Bobby Charlton.
At 22:53:22 in ScotlandThe Commonwealth Games is 11 days of non-stop action.
At 22:50:06 in SportEngland are guaranteed Commonwealth Games gold in table tennis' mixed doubles following Friday's semi-finals.
At 22:44:27 in ScotlandUsain Bolt has made his much anticipated Commonwealth Games debut - and again denied making disparaging remarks about Glasgow 2014.
At 22:42:38 in Northern IrelandHundreds of people have attended a public meeting to discuss fracking in County Fermanagh.
At 22:30:05 in TechnologyIf you live out your life on the internet, getting knocked offline can ruin your day.
At 22:29:16 in BusinessNegotiations between Argentina and its creditors should be resumed urgently, US judge Thomas Griesa has said.
At 22:18:11 in BusinessWith house prices growing faster than incomes in many parts of the UK, is your house making more money than you do? Find out by using the calculator below.
At 22:17:35 in HeadlinesPresident Barack Obama has defended CIA Director John Brennan and acknowledged the US tortured prisoners after 9/11.
At 22:07:12 in SportDerry City moved up to fifth place in the Premier Division by hammering Bohemians 4-0 on Friday night.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Asbo: The end of an era [Online] (Updated 23rd May 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1430389/Asbo-The-end-of-an-era [Accessed 1st Aug 2014]
News In Other Categories
If you live out your life on the internet, getting knocked offline can ruin your day.
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
The Commonwealth Games is 11 days of non-stop action.
The incoming music director of the English National Opera (ENO) has said the company will keep taking risks in spite of funding cuts.
Manchester United "made mistakes" last season under David Moyes, according to club legend Sir Bobby Charlton.
One hundred years ago this summer Britain and her Empire stood on the brink of war. Frantic last-minute diplomacy had come to nothing - and armies were mobilising across Europe.