POLICE in Stockton have been given powers to challenge youths who persist in anti-social behaviour.

In a direct response to public concerns about the problems in the Fairfield and Grangefield areas, police and Stockton Borough Council, are authorising the use of a police dispersal order.

Residents have complained for a long time about problems caused by drunken youths around Bluebell Grove and Whitton Road.

Other trouble spots include Grangefield School and the grounds of St Mark's Church.

Youngsters meeting outside the local Sainsbury's store and in the car park will also be challenged by police.

The orders are a new power under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, 2003. They give the police the authority to disperse groups of two or more people in a public place if they are causing, or are likely to cause, trouble.

People who refuse to disperse can face a maximum penalty of three months in prison while under-16s can be taken home to their parents.

Superintendent Dave Brunskill, head of operations at Stockton Police, said: "Most young people go out to enjoy themselves with no intention of causing any problems.

"However, there is a minority who do cause problems in the community, and it is those people we are targeting.

"We want their parents to take responsibility for what they are doing and would encourage their peers to put pressure on them to moderate their behaviour."

Marilyn Davies, community safety manager for Stockton Borough Council, said: "Residents in this area need to be protected from the behaviour of some young people who misbehave due to alcohol.

"Parents need to be aware of where their children are. This order allows us to take a child home."