Bangor night-time ban on young criticised as 'madness'
A night-time ban on young people in a city centre has been criticised by the children's commissioner for Wales and civil liberties campaigners.
It comes into force in Bangor, Gwynedd, on Monday and could affect anyone under 16 not with an adult after 9pm.
Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch called the order madness and likened it to "North Korea, not north Wales".
However, North Wales Police said it would not apply to all youngsters, but instead only those who cause trouble.
The dispersal order says: "If you are under 16 you are not allowed to be here between the hours of 9pm and 6am unless you are under the effective control of a parent or responsible person over the age of 18.
"You may be removed to your home or place of safety if more appropriate."
It will remain in place for six months in a bid to help tackle anti-social behaviour such as groups congregating to drink or members of the public being "harassed, intimidated, alarmed or distressed".
Officers will also be able to order groups of two or more people to disperse.
Keith Towler, the children's commissioner, said it "demonises under-16s, isolates them from their communities, alienates them from police and spreads the misconception that all young people are troublemakers".
"Police already have the power to take action against those that are engaging in criminal behaviour in a public place," he said.
He questioned whether "alternative approaches" had been considered, and said he would be happy to discuss this with North Wales Police.
Nick Pickles, the director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the idea someone could be "fined or imprisoned for walking through the town centre simply because you are 15 and not accompanied by a parent is simply madness".
"To say that any under-16-year-old who is unaccompanied between 9pm and 6am is a criminal is the kind of draconian law you'd expect in North Korea, not north Wales."
He added that criminalising every young person in Bangor "without any need for them to be engaged in any wrongdoing" is an "unwarranted and disproportionate intrusion onto the civil liberties of thousands of perfectly law abiding young people".
This is the first time a dispersal order has been used in Bangor and local police inspector Simon Barrasford said it was an effective weapon against anti-social behaviour.
Failure to comply could lead to up to three months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £2,500.
Police said it did not mean they would routinely remove all under-16s to take them home, but rather it gives them the power to do so if they deemed it necessary.
"Many people are working very hard to improve and regenerate the city centre as well as just wanting to enjoy their daily lives without being intimidated or harassed and I have no doubt dispersal orders areas will assist in that endeavour," said Insp Barrasford.
"Drinking in public has an adverse effect not only on visitors' perception but also on the quality of life of residents.
"Working closely with our partners in the local authorities, I'm confident that we can have a positive impact on the area," he added.
Catherine Roberts, Gwynedd council's senior community safety officer, said the order was not in itself the solution, as there was a lot of hard work to make them effective.
"We are fortunate to have a very good working relationship with our colleagues in North Wales Police with such issues," she said.
"The support of the community is essential so that any improvements are maintained in the longer term," she said.