This week, the 41-year-old, who is homeless, was given a criminal asbo banning him from entering any NHS building in England or Wales unless he is in need of genuine medical attention, ending a career of faking illness thought to have lasted at least three years and cost the health service tens of thousands of pounds, according to its counter fraud division. He is known to have adopted more than 70 aliases.
(Quote taken from the Guardian online)
So what’s wrong with that I hear you ask? EVERYTHING!
First of all just the basic reporting of the ASBO is incorrect, there is no such thing as a criminal asbo, it is either a stand alone asbo or an asbo on conviction, the latter of which is what is being referred to here. So that annoyed me straight away. (There are also interim asbos which can be granted in emergency cases prior to all of the evidence required for a stand alone asbo being gathered)
Secondly has anyone actually bothered to look at this from a prevention perspective rather than an enforcement one? Yes this man deserves to be punished for what he has done and has been sentenced to a 3 year community order for his crime. Now surely the judge would know that an asbo will not prevent this man from doing the very same thing again because the root of the issue is not being tackled by the sentence this man has received. There is a giveaway in the first sentence of the above quote, the word “homeless”.
There are two possible reasons for this man to have behaved in such a manner, first off is a mental health problem, in this instance it is more than likely he has a personality disorder and is seeking attention for himself, possibly accompanied by learning difficulties so that he minimalises the consequences of his actions and most importantly he is homeless. He is seeking out a bed for the night, any one could work that out!
Obviously I don’t know the exact details of this particular case but having personally dished out ASBO’s to youths and adults a few years ago, working in the probation service and in the anti social behaviour field again now, I see cases like this every single day and I really do think that asbo’s on conviction are being dished out with very little thought about whether they will actually work. When trying to obtain a stand alone asbo you have to show to the court that you have tried numerous interventions, both preventative and from an enforcement perspective prior to even presenting the matter to the magistrates, plus run it past a panel of professionals and a solicitor (well that’s best practice anyway!). And if we found out that an offender had a case due in court and we asked for an asbo on conviction to be added on to the sentence (the reason this is usually done is because it’s quicker to tag an asbo onto a sentence for another offence than to apply for a stand alone asbo as the defendant is already in court so there is no waiting for a court date.) we would still have to prepare the same case papers for the judge to consider so I don’t understand why so many asbos on conviction are being dished out when the information that judges and magistrates usually insist on isn’t even before them!
An ASBO is supposed to be to prevent alarm, harassment or distress – how does this man’s crime come under that heading? He has been given a community order and technically if it was felt that this man would breach his asbo in terms of presenting himself to NHS services when he was not in need of medical assistance, why not have given him a suspended sentence order for three years instead, this would have had the same effect in that he would be supervised by probation for a period of 3 years and if he was found to have committed the same crimes again he would be sent to prison and it actually fits the crime in that this is not an anti social crime! Or give him a community order, forgo the asbo altogether and add a condition that he has a mental health referral as part of his community order. This would assess any mental health problems, personality disorders etc and as part of his community order he would be forced to attend or it would be returned to court as unworkable or in breach and another sentence would be passed to take this into consideration. Another condition could be to see a housing worker through probation for a certain period of time, he could be accompanied to the homeless unit at the council to ascertain if they could assist him, referred to the housing register or assisted to find private rented accommodation. Some people simply do not know where to start, what they are entitled to or where to go to get help. If being homeless is his reason for trying to get himself a hospital room, surely this would stop his offending because he would be helped into accommodation and provided with all the support he needs in order that he can have a more settled way of life.
I am in no way excusing this mans crimes, he deserves to be punished for what he has done. I do not however think and ASBO is the way to go and I hope that this mans mental health and housing situation will now be assessed and he will get the help that he needs to move away from this pattern of offending and the support with obtaining accommodation that he clearly needs.