Clash over Hamilton curfew

Scottish Office paints upbeat picture despite zero effect on street crime.

OFFICIAL research into the Hamilton youth "curfew" is seriously at odds with an independent review carried out by the Scottish Human Rights Centre, published over the summer.

The Scottish Office and Strathclyde Police survey admits there is no drop in overall youth crime, but ministers yesterday (Thursday) highlighted the positive messages from the Hamilton child safety initiative, carried out in three housing schemes between last October and April this year.

The safety of young children out after dark was the prime focus and not just reduced crime, according to the Scottish Office and South Lanarkshire Council.

Almost 1,000 pupils in six Hamilton secondaries were asked their views about the curfew, producing a mixed bag of responses.

More than 200 young people in the three areas were taken home but only four were charged with an offence. Parents whose children were taken off the streets largely approved and four out of 10 young people in the Hamilton area backed the idea. People felt safer since the initiative began, according to the study.

But the Human Rights Centre analysis presents a quite different picture. It found that police activity on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings between 7.30pm and 11pm had little impact on young people's behaviour. Most still hung about the streets despite the curfew. The bulk of police action took place after the high-profile launch in the early weeks and tapered off, the centre says.

During two-thirds of the period, only five or six children every week were taken home, fewer than two a night in the three schemes. Most of the young people were "loitering" and were told to go home rather than being taken home by police. Many were asked to move on.

Of 66 youths the centre interviewed, 86 per cent said they hung about the streets at night with more than seven out of 10 saying they did it every night. Almost nine out of 10 said they did not go out less often because of the curfew. Most had been spoken to by the police since the curfew began and alienation had increased.

The centre says the police action in Hamilton cannot be justified under the law, breaches children's rights and is ineffective in meeting the project's own aims.

It also maintains the local communities did not ask for the curfew, as the authorities suggested they did, but merely some action to stop young people hanging about the streets. Police wanted to respond to complaints.

The two-part Scottish Office-funded study found that people in the Hillhouse area were just as concerned about gangs of youths on the streets after six months of the initiative as they were before it began. But three-quarters of residents interviewed thought the initiative was a good idea.

Focus groups in Hillhouse said that the police should do more about older teenagers on the streets, rather than focusing on very young children. They should deal with alcohol abuse, drug dealing, vandalism and unacceptable noise levels.

Resources to set up alternative activities for young people are important, they say.

Evaluation of the Hamilton Child Safety Initiative is published by the Scottish Office Central Research Unit (0131 244 2112). "Time to go home - Says who? - an analysis of the Hamilton curfew experience" is published by the Scottish Human Rights Centre (0141 332 5960).

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