Joshua Rozenberg, Telegraph (London), October 8, 2004
Three teenagers who complained about leaflets that named them as part of a gang which “terrorised” an area of north-west London were told by the High Court yesterday that the publicity had not breached their human rights.
Anti-social behaviour orders, or Asbos, had been made last year against Jovan Stanley, then 15, William Marshall, 16, and Martin Kelly, 18, after complaints by residents of a block of council flats in Neasden.
Lawyers for the teenagers said their right to respect for their private and family life under Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention had been breached by Brent borough council and the Metropolitan Police, which published the leaflets and a website containing their names, photographs and details of the Asbos.
The leaflets said they were part of a group that had committed theft and criminal damage, including plunging elderly residents into darkness. They had used foul and abusive language, regularly possessed drugs and knives, and urinated outside residents’ doors.
Maps were provided to show residents the areas from which the three youths and five others had been excluded under the Asbos, obtained from a district judge after a 15-day hearing and upheld on appeal.
Lord Justice Kennedy and Mr Justice Treacy ruled that the publicity was “justified, reasonable and proportionate” — even though the authorities did not seem to have recognised that it might have infringed the teenagers’ human rights.
The court was told that the gang had subjected residents to a two-year campaign of misbehaviour, including throwing bricks through windows, shouting abuse and drugs offences.
Cleaners were too frightened to work on the estate and police cars would be surrounded and pelted with stones, fireworks and mud. Shortly after the Asbos were introduced crime in the area dropped by 25 per cent.
There was not much sympathy for the teenagers yesterday.
No residents were prepared to be named, but one disabled woman said she had been too scared to leave her house, or even to sit in the garden.
She felt it was perfectly reasonable to publish the names of the offenders and thought the Asbos did not go far enough.
“These people should be locked up,” she said. “The people who live here are terrorised. They are afraid to call the police. This is no way to live.”
But one 29-year-old man said the leaflet could make matters worse. “They are wannabe gangsters, who go around instilling fear into others,” he said. “The money put into this could have been spent on something more positive.”
Michael Fordham, counsel for the three youths, argued in court that the publicity had gone too far. Personal details and photographs of the three were “unnecessarily” distributed to thousands of additional homes and even ended up on the internet, leading to worldwide exposure.
Dismissing the challenge, which had been backed by the human rights group Liberty, Lord Justice Kennedy said: “It is clear to me that, whether publicity is intended to inform, to reassure, to assist in enforcing the existing orders by policing, to inhibit the behaviour of those against whom the orders have been made, or to deter others, it is unlikely to be effective unless it includes photographs, names and at least partial addresses.
“Not only do the readers need to know against whom orders have been made, but those responsible for publicity must leave no room for mis-identification.”
He added: “As to the spread of publicity, there is simply no case for contending that it should have been confined to the exclusion area set out in the orders.”
But he also emphasised the need for those considering publicity to have in mind the rights of those against whom orders are made.