Anita de Klerk argues that the dispersal zone placed in Stratford is not about targeting local anti-social behaviour, but rather a strategy to keep the unwanted public away from the Olympics.

The Metropolitan Police have confirmed that they are grabbing new powers to impose a three month ‘dispersal zone’ on Stratford, East London, the heart of the Olympics. The powers allow the police to force two or more residents off the streets and impose a 9pm to 6am curfew on young people.

These measures come on top of permission to allow police to fire live ammunition at future rioters, arsonists and to disperse violent protestors that were granted after last years riots. The dispersal zone placed around the Olympic Park will make any attempt to protest against the Olympics illegal.

The dispersal zone has been agreed with Labour controlled Newham Council. It is to concentrate around the Stratford area – the heart of the London 2012 Olympics. The dispersal zone was introduced in Newham exactly three months before the Olympic opening ceremony and has been deployed by Newham police in a bid to reduce anti-social behaviour in the area. The police have confirmed that towards the end of the three month period, evidence will be collated, and consideration will be given for an extension of an additional three months; covering the entire duration of the Olympics.

Under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003) police have been given powers to order a group of two or more non-residents to leave the dispersal zone, further banning them from returning for 24 hours, and / or to disperse groups of two or more local residents back to their homes. These powers also allow the police to place a curfew on all young people under the age of 18 between 9pm and 6am unless accompanied by an appropriate adult. Failure to comply may result in arrest, conviction with a maximum penalty of three months in prison and / or £5000 fine.

Demographically, the London Borough of Newham, and specifically Stratford, has the highest population of young people, the second highest population of ethnic minorities, with the London Borough of Brent being marginally higher, and 25% of the population of Newham are Muslim.

Last February, Boris Johnson celebrated the largest decrease in crime in the Borough of Newham which was reported as over double the London average in the crime reduction figures. The Newham police and Local Authority may argue that the reduction in crime was due to their crime reducing partnership initiatives, however, dispersal orders and dispersal zones were not part of their previous strategy and as such provide no evidence as an effective tool in tackling anti-social behaviour or reducing crime in the local area. According to extensive criminological research, since the introduction of Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003), there is no evidence at all that dispersal orders reduce crime, but rather displace it to areas outside the dispersal zone, as shown in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s research on The use an impact of dispersal orders.

Last week, during the first televised report of the government’s plans to place missile launchers on top of residential buildings within East London, the BBC reiterated the government’s position that there are no immediate threats of a terrorist attack and these plans are to be implemented as precautionary measures in the event of an attack. Furthermore, the dispersal zone can too be seen as a precautionary measure in the event of an attack, but not from Muslim fundamentalists or extremists, as the government would have you believe, but from the citizens of this country.

The dispersal zone has not been initiated as a ‘crime fighting strategy’, as part of a community consultation to reduce anti-social behaviour in the area, as suggested by Newham police, but forms part of the government’s ethnic-economic cleansing plans in the run up to and for the duration of the Olympics. Along with government initiatives to cap housing benefit and force people out of their London communities, police permission to fire live ammunition and missiles placed over head, the threat of attack is from you and me. It is apparent that the government is creating an Olympic stage which does not reflect the mood and the population of this country and is going to any length to protect an image which its policies do not reflect.

Anita de Klerk

Anita de Klerk is a lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy, Marxist activist and founder of the People's Flotilla Against Austerity.