POLICE now have the power to break up gatherings of two or more people in a bid to beat anti-social behaviour in the centre of Oxford.

A dispersal order has this month been introduced in the Speedwell Street area and anyone who refuses to move-on could face a fine up to £2,500 or three months in prison.

Inspector Andy Thompson said the move was designed to stop large groups gathering near homeless shelters and causing problems.

He said: “If there is someone who has no legitimate reason to be down that street, and there is a likelihood they could contribute to antisocial behaviour, we have power to direct them to leave.”

Police received 54 complaints of anti-social behaviour in the area between January and November last year, according to the Home Office’s crime mapping website police.uk. In 2012 there were 51 complaints following the 107 in 2011.

It is the second time police and Oxford City Council have used the Anti-social Behaviour Act to break-up groups. In 2006, a dispersal order was agreed to tackle intimidating behaviour from groups of youths in The Oval, Rose Hill and at Iffley Lock.

The latest move was authorised by Oxford area commander Superintendent Christian Bunt who said: “Anti-social behaviour which blights the lives of Oxford City residents will simply not be tolerated.”

Lesley Dewhurst, chief executive of Oxford Homeless Pathways, which runs the O’Hanlon House hostel in Luther Street, welcomed the order.

She said: “We want to discourage people who aren’t using our services to stop hanging around and the dispersal order will do that.”

Butterwyke Place resident June Bear, a 72-year-old retired Oxford Magistrates’ Court usher, said: “I don’t know where it came from. (The police) have to be seen doing something if people are complaining but I personally haven’t had any problems.”

One man outside the hostel said those who gathered there were annoyed about the order.

He said: “It just bothers everyone. They are always moving us on.

Dispersal order explained

  • THE dispersal order came in to force on January 1 and will stay in place until June 30.

It covers Speedwell Street, Luther Street, Butterwyck Place, and Cromwell Road.

Under the order a police officer or PCSO can order a group of two or more people to disperse, order anyone who does not live in the area to leave, or tell anyone who does not live in the area to leave and not return for up to 24 hours.

A person under 16 in the area between 9pm and 6am can be returned to their home address. Failure to comply means a fine of up to £2,500 or three months’ jail.