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Now happy hour ends with 'martial law'
Ministers have ordered the Army on to the streets to join an all-out summer campaign against anti-social drunken and violent behaviour by yobs.
Military police and ordinary uniformed soldiers will help keep youths under control in up to 20 towns and cities near military barracks.The strategy comes as police forces in more than 230 towns and cities begin a clampdown on disorderly behaviour by alcohol-fuelled youngsters, in response to a Home Office survey showing a disturbing rise in youth crime.
Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, has asked the Ministry of Defence to support police forces around the country after an experiment in Royston, Hertfordshire, where uniformed Redcaps - military police - were deployed to crack down on late-night violence by drunken yobs. As well as dealing with off-duty soldiers from a nearby base, they targeted civilians in the non-garrison town.
Their patrols were judged a success and the Redcaps are now seen regularly on the streets, alongside Hertfordshire beat police, in the small market town, where local officers have welcomed them. One officer said that although the military police are armed only with a baton similar to that used by ordinary police, their uniforms and military training deter antics from getting out of hand.
Until this experiment, military police, who have the same powers of arrest as ordinary police officers, have patrolled only in major military centres such as Aldershot, Colchester and Catterick. Now regular patrols will begin in towns and cities near military bases.
A spokesman for Liberty, the civil rights organisation, expressed concern. She said: "Until now the Armed Forces have only been used on the streets of Northern Ireland in recent years and we need to be very careful about using them on the mainland in peacetime."
A senior Ministry of Defence official said: "We do not expect hundreds of troops on the streets but we would think the very presence of unarmed troops will deter bad behaviour."
Ordinary soldiers have no powers of arrest and will not directly intervene in boisterous behaviour, but will act as a "calming and pacifying" influence, say Home Office officials. They would only intervene directly in the unlikely event of widespread civil disturbance. Military police are fully trained to deal with civilian disturbances.
More than 230 towns and cities including Blackpool, Brighton, Manchester, Birmingham and several London boroughs, have been listed for special police measures this summer. Extra police and civilian police assistants will be drafted in on Friday and Saturday nights as part of a zero-tolerance crackdown against drug-taking, under-age drinking and alcohol- related violence.
In some areas curfews will be imposed, allowing police to clear groups of youths from the street after 9pm. "Curfew zones" will be introduced, from which police may ban individuals for up to 24 hours using an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (Asbo). Anyone who breaches such an order faces a fine of up to £2,500 and a jail sentence.
The measures were prompted by a wave of violent incidents involving teenage gangs including the "happy slapping" craze, where teenagers attack their victim and film the assault on a mobile phone. In May, Tony Blair promised to curb anti-social behaviour and promote a culture of "respect".
The Sunday Telegraph has learned, however, that the next set of crime figures, to be released in September, will show that anti-social behaviour has not declined, despite attempts by some towns to deploy "yob-busting" teams. More young people complain of being victims of crime.
A Home Office spokesman said: "We want to ensure that people can go about their business without any problems and the Hertfordshire police and Army link up has provided a useful lesson."
David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "Bringing in the Army in a few small towns is just a gimmick. It will not solve the problem of yob culture.
"This shows Mr Blair's desperation. He has failed
to get a culture of respect from yobs. He should concentrate on the causes
of crime, not headline-grabbing ideas."