In the Media

Drunk disorderly: Britain's middle-class Asbos

PUBLISHED September 4, 2007

Antisocial behaviour is not confined to hoodies. Drunk and badly behaved barristers are being targeted in a drive to raise standards among professionals.

A rampage after a football match, verbal abuse hurled at police officers as they moved to make an arrest after the suspect tried to hit a steward; a post-party reveller staggering around drunk and disorderly before breaking into a parked car, screaming, and throwing the car's back-seat contents out of one of its windows; a drunken "jape" in which 11 windscreen wipers were ripped from parked cars.

The latest instances of the hoodies or chavs ? the Asbo generation ? misbehaving after a few ? more than a few ? too many? A wild night on an inner-city council estate, perhaps? Simply more grist to the mill of those who bemoan the breakdown of society and the boorish behaviour of the poorer members of it?

Not a bit of it. They are, instead, all examples of a growing phenomenon identified by police and psychiatrists: the middle classes behaving badly.

And now comes signs of a backlash that professional watchdogs, including the General Medical Council and the Bar Standards Board, are taking steps to stamp out drink, drug and sexual excess, and to step into the private lives of doctors and barristers to do so.

Take the first incident. It concerned not an archetypal football yob on a post-match binge but Dr Simone Lester, a former senior director of NHS Direct and the woman charged with no less grave a task than drawing up guidelines for the public following the radioactive poisoning of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko. She faced a GMC disciplinary hearing last week after becoming involved in an alcohol-fuelled argument with police at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. She called an officer a "poor peasant" and telling him that he was "worse than Jade Goody".

The second offender was no less a figure than the Bishop of Southwark. The Right Rev Tom Butler, a regular contributor to Radio 4's Thought for the Day, is one of the most senior clergyman in the Church of England. But that didn't stop him from raising more than a few parish eyebrows after he was discovered in a bad way in a stranger's car, throwing toys out of the vehicle. Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, announced his own investigation.

And the windscreen wiper stealer was a Scottish lawyer, making his way home after celebrating his mother's 80th birthday. He was dealt with by the courts.

Now the Bar Standards Board is stepping in to make it clear it will no longer tolerate anti-social conduct while off duty and is preparing to introduce a new offence of "improper behaviour" outside chambers.

The GMC too said last night it would act if it was confronted with a case of a doctor behaving badly outside of his or her role at the surgery or hospital, as it did with Dr Lester.

So just what is going on among the privileged classes?

Clinical psychologist Oliver James identifies a new trend of professionals " behaving in a way that is really very different to the way they ought to behave ". He blames a disease that he has termed "affluenza", where the middle classes have reacted to the widening inequalities of wealth by turning nasty.

He offers an example: "It is a relatively new phenomenon and includes examples such as a friend of mine, who went to Winchester and supports Chelsea, engaging in considerable violence as a Chelsea fan."

Drusilla Beyfus, the author of Modern Manners: The Complete Guide to the Etiquette of the 90s and an etiquette expert, backs the move to hold to account the badly behaving middle classes, often the most vocal in their criticism of similar behaviour in the less privileged sections of society. She says: "People who are accustomed to being looked up to should maintain a certain level of behaviour but standards have slipped across the board."

Drunken conduct by barristers, working under intense pressure to win cases, is a closely kept secret within the profession. The move is an attempt to stop it from impacting on the wider public.

And a recent spate of lurid headlines alleging bizarre behaviour has worried the Bar Standards Board, the profession's self-regulatory body. One barrister was recently caught secretly filming up women's skirts in supermarkets. Another was taken to court after he was alleged to have exposed himself to bridesmaids at a wedding, and brawled with a fellow guest. The barrister was finally acquitted ? but not after a headline in The Sun appeared reading, "Barrister got willy out".

The Bar Standards Board's decision to change its disciplinary procedures will send a strong signal to barristers to treat not only their clients properly but also to watch what they say and do after taking their wigs off. Solicitors, too, are coming under increasing scrutiny. Nor is bad behaviour in the legal profession confined to advocates.

Last year, the public was enthralled by the story of two judges who are alleged to have made sex videos, one of which purported to show the woman snorting cocaine in Thailand. Their cleaner, who had been the lover of one of the judges, was accused of blackmailing them over the home-made sex videos. As the lurid details of the love triangle emerged, the court was told how the male judge liked to call the Brazilian cleaner "real chilli hot stuff".

As well as the legal profession's own plans to self-regulate, ministers are paying close attention to both the conduct of lawyers and members of the judiciary. A new law being brought in this autumn to regulate the legal services is expected to address the issue of discipline for disreputable behaviour and is expected to enshrine in law the concept of "improper conduct".

The new rules on complaints against barristers will give the Bar Standards Commissioner the power to tell barristers, including QCs, to apologise to the people they have offended or abused. While being found guilty of loutish behaviour is unlikely to be end a barrister's career, it could jeopardies promotion. Under the proposals set to be adopted, a barrister who wishes to take silk or a senior judicial role would first have any offence of " improper behaviour" taken into account.

The proposal, included in a strategic review of complaints and disciplinary processes of the Bar Standards Board, explains how the new "concept of improper behaviour" is designed to deal with complaints from "non clients" ? or members of the general public ? "more effectively."

Rob Behrens, the Bar Standards Board complaints commissioner who drew up the proposals that regulate barristers' behaviour, said the new charge would enable complaints about poor conduct outside chambers to be dealt with swiftly. "In my experience the majority of barristers behave themselves extremely well," he said. "But now the only device to bring a barrister to account from behaviour towards somebody who isn't their client is to charge them with professional misconduct and that may be disproportionate. We need something more in keeping with the offence."

Either way, Mr James fears that attempts to crack down on the badly behaving middle classes are doomed to failure. He warned: "It will all be utterly irrelevant. We will just be scratching at the surface of the structural and cultural problems that have caused them to behave like this."

The foul-mouthed doctor

Simone Lester

What happened: Faced a medical disciplinary hearing last week for allegedly losing control at a football match after drinking and repeatedly swearing at police officers. The General Medical Council hearing was told that, during a match between Wigan Athletic and Arsenal on 11 February, Dr Lester, a former medical director at NHS Direct, tried to hit a steward and then verbally abused police saying: "I'm a fucking doctor. I want your fucking names and numbers." In a letter to the GMC, Dr Lester denied using abusive language. Consequences: The GMC said noted "two very different versions of events" and said that although it considered Dr L
ester's behaviour on the day to be "intemperate" it did not fall sufficiently below standards to warrant a formal censure.

The coke-snorting policeman

Fraser Bisley

What happened: Bisley was arrested after being caught snorting from a wrap of cocaine during a night out with a friend in Glasgow.

Consequences: The arrest left Bisley's career in ruins. He resigned as a c onstable with Central Scotland Police, where he had worked for five years. He was also fined ?500 after he admitted to a supply charge at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

The ready for action judge

David Messenger

What happened: Mr Messenger, who worked as a district judge, was convicted for being drunk and disorderly in a kebab shop in Scarborough in 2003. When police were called to the shop, he squared up to them and yelled to one bystander: "Tell them I'm a solicitor and the county court judge."

Consequences: Found guilty by Selby magistrates' court and fined ?800 and costs. He was later sacked from as a district judge.

The vandalising lawyer

Paul Hutcheson

What happened: Went on a vandalism spree in Perth after returning home drunk from his mother's 80th birthday party in May. The senior partner at Aberdein Considine's Inverurie law firm launched into an orgy of destruction, ripping the windscreen wipers off 11 cars and causing nearly ?1,000 of damage.

Consequences: Admitted seven charges relating to vandalism and paid for the damage he caused.

The amorous teacher

Lucy Hayward

What happened: English and RE teacher smoked cannabis with a group of pupils she befriended and eventually struck up a relationship with one of them, a 15-year-old boy.

Consequences: Jailed for two years, made to sign the Sex Offenders' Register for life and lost her job as a teacher.

The slurring bishop

Right Rev Tom Butler

What happened: After a Christmas party the bishop said he had been mugged, but witnesses claimed he climbed into the back of an unlocked car and threw toys.

Consequences: Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, dropped the matter after lawyers advised him the case could not be proved.

Further reading: 'The Asbo Effect' by Lynsey Hanley, published by Granta