There are no plans in England to ban the use of devices which emit a high-pitched sound to disperse groups of teenagers, the government has said. But it stressed the Mosquito devices, which can cause discomfort to youngsters’ ears, should be “a last resort” against anti-social behaviour.
The children’s commissioner and other critics want a ban, saying the gadget is indiscriminate in who it targets.
Some stores say the devices can be useful against anti-social youths.
In a statement issued after the calls for a ban, the government said: “‘Mosquito alarms’ are not banned and the government has no plans to do so.
“Obviously no-one would want to have to use a device like this, and it should very much be seen as a last resort.
“We will continue to tackle the underlying problems through better neighbourhood policing, giving young people alternative things to do in their spare time and, where necessary, using the powers we have put in place to prevent anti-social behaviour.”
The device has proved popular with councils wanting to tackle nuisance problems, and some 3,500 are estimated to be in use in England.
It works on the basis that a person’s ability to hear high frequencies tends to decline once they reach their 20s.
But a new campaign called “Buzz off”, led by the children’s commissioner for England and backed by groups including civil liberties group Liberty, is calling for them to be banned.
Critics say the “Mosquito” targets all young people and not just those who may be causing a nuisance.
They say its use to disperse gangs is a breach of children’s human rights.
Sir Al Aynsley-Green, children’s commissioner for England, said children and young people were being demonised, “creating a dangerous and widening divide between the young and the old”.
In Scotland, work towards a ban on the use of Mosquito devices has been under way since last year.
Scotland’s commissioner for children and young people is pursuing the issue with the Scottish government, the police, supermarkets and the manufacturers.
But Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said the body would “fully support” the use of the device as a “last resort” in situations where staff and customers were intimidated by anti-social youths.
Mr Lowman, whose association represents 33,000 local shops, said: “Removing the ability to use tools like Mosquitoes will make life harder for retailers that face real problems.
“It would also reinforce the retailer’s view that, whilst many in government are quick to blame the retailer for anti-social problems created by gangs of youths, they are unwilling to make those same young people accountable for their own actions.”