Photos of "anti-socials"

Picture 2-71

Alex Sturrock took these photos of ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) for Vice.

Last year I travelled up and down Britain for six months to meet and take photographs of people with Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. In case you didn’t know, an ASBO is something invented by the Labour government to give out to people who are seen as a menace to the community they live in. I decided to do this because at the time there was so much coverage on things like “chavs” and “ASBOs” in the tabloid press that I wanted to find out what life was really like for the people who’d been labelled “anti-social” by the government. Originally, only a limited number of ASBOs were meant to be handed out and then only under very special circumstances. Once they started making front page headlines, however, the government started chucking them out like they were lottery tickets. When I began the project, over 9,853 people had ASBOs. At one point the rate of increase was so dramatic that if it had continued most of the country would have their own personal ASBO by the end of the decade. I wonder what mine would have been for?
Above: "Billy is from Dagenham in Essex. He has an ASBO for hoarding rubbish and livestock in his house. When the council cleaned his house they removed over 20 tons of rubbish in 700 bin bags." Link


  1. hilarious! in the foreground of the photo is an unboxed “Electrolux Enviro Steamer” … interesting how it is quite common for so-called ‘junk houses’ to have ample cleaning supplies at the ready, but seemingly never used!!

  2. When I was living in Boulder and trying to save money, I lived in a cheap-ass duplex. When I moved in, there was a really bad smell, like rotting garbage, in my room. I scrubbed the floors and walls but nothing could get rid of it. I finally tracked it down to the heating vent, and it turned out one of the guys living in the basement level was basically collecting trash in his room and the odor was wafting up through the duct.

    Poor guy was schizophrenic and had no support from family and had no real friends. After my neighbors and I convinced the landlord to do something about it, they called in a disaster recovery service that spent basically a week cleaning the guy’s apartment. The stuff they pulled out was terrible – rotting food, human waste, all kinds of gross stuff. The guy in this picture looks normal compared to Gordon.

  3. I’m not sure how things are different in the UK, but in the U.S. the term “antisocial” has a very specific psychiatric meaning that describes people who regularly violate the rights of others, are deceitful, aggressive, and lack remorse. Think multiple arrests for property or violent crimes.

    So calling someone “antisocial” if he/he has a mental illness that affects others (rotting smell wafting through air ducts, for example!) is not accurate and downright unfair. In the U.S., at least. And I have a Ph.D. in psychology, so I’m not just talking out of my ass.

  4. I’d ask the same thing as several of the commenters at Viceland — why no information on what the “minor charges” were? If it was something trivial, like jaywalking or truancy, you’d think the author would mention it, to reinforce his claim that ASBOs are being given to people who don’t deserve them.

  5. I’ll second Phasor’s comment: it feels like the author took deliberate steps to conceal the ASBO-holder’s misdeeds. If I’m giving a cause for something, it’s easier to say “for jaywalking” versus “for minor charges.” As the article stands, I can’t help but feel that most of them are guilty of assault, rape, torturing puppies, killing unicorns, and putting marshmallows on sweet potatoes. (Yuck!)

  6. ASBOs are awarded for acts that aren’t themselves criminal, but which are somehow bothersome. They essentially make up new laws specific to a single person. This can mean that an individual ASBO can sound exceedingly bizarre, which obviously makes for good tabloid fodder.

    In some cases of course the receiver of the ASBO may have genuine crimes to their name. Here ASBOs can be used when the receiver is under the age of criminal responsibility (10 in England, 8 in Scotland), or where the is insufficient evidence to secure a conviction. (ie. They may be innocent)

  7. @ #6 — I certainly agree, and I made a point of not calling the man in my experience antisocial – was just sharing a memory triggered by the photo!

  8. They’re telling us they removed over 40,000 pounds (or, 44,000, if those are metric tons) of stuff from this guy’s house? (In garbage-can liners that hold 60 pounds each – impressive enough in itself; mine won’t hold a grapefruit rind without tearing.)

    I’m finding that hard to believe. In fact, I’m as suspicious of that as I am of the other ASBO recipients, all of whom seem to have a conveniently vague history of small numbers of misdemeanors. (One, aged 11, was pictured in the local newspaper and in distributed leaflets, and is now the target of threats from local adults who apparently can’t handle an 11-year-old boy.)

    It sounds more and more like sanctioned vigilantism and official bullying.

  9. “At one point the rate of increase was so dramatic that if it had continued most of the country would have their own personal ASBO by the end of the decade.”

    The reasoning in the quote provided is fallacious. It makes an unwarranted assumption about the nature of the rate of change of ASBOs (ie, we’re talking about differential equations here, and the author assumed a simple, linear growth equation, with no justification to do so).

    The British government invents a new classification, X. They set about deciding who is in classification X.

    In the beginning, the growth of people in X will be very rapid — the classification didn’t exist yesterday!

    It is, however, quite a mistake to assume the initial growth will continue unabated — it won’t. It will reach the carrying factor, and begin to stabilize, or climb asymptotically toward a limiting value (you see this same fallacious logic whenever a new problem comes to light, and things begin to be placed into a category that did not exist yesterday. For example, this very same logic has been used to “prove” that all kids are going to eventually be diagnosed with ADHD, or that all Americans are going to eventually be diagnosed as depressed, etc.)

    What the British government was doing with the ASBO thing seems dangerous, but that logic is just crap. You’d have to use some other logic to prove that the British government plans to classify all Brits as ASBOs.


  10. William/Billy was recently featured over here in the UK on World of Compulsive Hoarders back in May (Channel 4) about his obsessive hoarding – not only of junk and rotten food – but he also hoards his own urine and faeces.

    They showed a clip of his garden shed, crammed with bottles, 5 litre paint pots etc. that were filled to the brim with his bodily waste.

    This was causing (quite obviously) a health hazard, not only to himself but to his neighbours who complained about the smell and the waste that was encroaching into their gardens.

    Billy would also roam the streets at night, picking up paper, out of date food and other such rubbish from bins and skips. He would also raid his neighbours’ bins and hoard their rubbish, too. IIRC the ASBO may have been to do with him leaving the house at night to go collecting.

    He did come across as desperate to change his lifestyle but was still reticent about cutting back on his belongings. His local council had also gone into his property on a number of occasions to clear out his house but his compulsion is too extreme. The cameras went back a month or so later but sadly, he had begun to hoard his own bodily waste again.

  11. You know that annoying neighbor? The one with the loud parties and the trash all over the yard and the dog barking all night long? The one you call the cops on again and again and again and again? ASBOs are about getting rid of this sort of person who isn’t technically arrestable, but needs to have SOMETHING done. This guy seems to gloss over that fact.

    My parents had a flat in one of the council estates that were partly still council and partly privately owned. One of the kids was completely uncontrolled, carving his name in people’s front doors, breaking doorbells and mailboxes just because he could, peeing anywhere he wanted to, spray paint in the stairways. The family was warned several times and then the council used an ASBO to remove them. Its not capricious, its not instant, it has to go through the same convoluted burocracy as anything else, but it certainly makes life a little nicer when they are issued.

  12. Nice one paper, scary in execution.

    Sounds like these ASBO’s take public disturbance fines one step further into public and government sanctioned ostracization. I know some kids are just messed up and probably should be punished. But this is downright Orwellian. If these can be applied to anything that isn’t technically a crime but just “annoying” and “not nice,” then the system is broken by default, and will be abused.

    I’m reminded of the recent Achewood, where Lyle is court ordered to inform all his neighbors within a five block radius that he is a (registered) asshole.

  13. Is an ASBO sometimes called a peacebody? There was a family in a neighborhood I lived in as a child that I was told had to move away because a peacebody was filed against them. I’ve never figured out what a peacebody is or why it would be filed against someone. Personal little mystery of mine, I guess…

  14. There’s an interesting government paper listing examples of how ASBOs have been abused here:

    A mixture of the sad,

    A 26-year-old homeless beggar from Birmingham was banned from begging in various car parks in Birmingham. He breached almost immediately and was, according to his solicitor, given 24 months custody. He was discharged earlier this year having served about eight months and was breached again for returning to begging and on this occasion got three years’ jail. His solicitor, therefore, says he received a total of five years’ imprisonment for an offence that itself is non imprisonable.

    And the funny,

    A 13-year-old was served an order banning him from using the word “grass” anywhere in England and Wales.

  15. My favourite from the link posted by #15 above.

    The oldest recipient of an order to date is an 87-year-old who among other things is forbidden from being sarcastic to his neighbours (July 2003). He was subsequently found guilty of breaking the terms of his order on three separate occasions.

  16. I agree, the comments section on that post is the best part of it! The photos are very interesting because of the subject matter but I wouldn’t say that the photography is very impressive. It’s good but not excellent.

    Still interesting, so interesting that I had to post a comment ;)

  17. Billy in Dagenham is pretty clearly a compulsive hoarder; it’s a form of OCD. There’s info about that on the OC Foundation’s site:

    They describe examples a lot worse this!

    Anti-Social Behavior Orders sound like they were intended for Antisocial Personality Disorder. Here’s wiki’s article:

    Probably most of your people who have Anti-Social Personality Disorder are dangerous enough that they belong in jail.

  18. Kevin (11), I know it sounds improbable, but compulsive hoarders’ accumulated rubbish can amount to a huge quantity of worthless garbage. There are households on record where the garbage was stacked so high that there were only a few feet of clearance between it and the ceiling.

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