LONDON: A series of safe havens, which will offer refuge to teenagers threatened by bullies and to other potential victims of crime, will help to prevent a repeat of the London riots, the opposition Labour party spokeswoman on the Olympics, Tessa Jowell, says.

In a move designed to outflank the prime minister, David Cameron, over the creation of his “big society”, Jowell will declare at rallies across London on Saturday that the safe havens will transform the fight against crime in the British capital.

Jowell has donated £100,000 — half the compensation she received from News International over the hacking of her phone — to the grassroots London Citizens’ CitySafe campaign.

The organisation, which has persuaded 300 businesses to take part, is reviving the ancient Olympic tradition of a truce 50 days before the games to establish 50 city “safe zones” in 19 London boroughs.

These will be made up of a total of 300 smaller “safe havens”, usually a high street shop with a CitySafe sign that alerts teenagers or other potential victims of crime that they can seek refuge.

Jowell, who spent six days last year training as a London Citizens volunteer, says the initiative is aimed particularly at teenagers who are menaced by gang members on buses and if they stray out of their area. They would slip into a shop or library, designated as a safe haven, where the shopkeeper would decide whether to accompany the teenager home or to call the police.

“Many young people would find it much easier to go into a shop and say ‘I don't feel very safe’ or ‘Those boys are following me’ than they would to go into a police station. It is holding out a hand to these kids and saying this is a safe place for you to come and we will keep you safe.”

But Jowell stressed that the initiative was “categorically not” designed to replace the police. Instead, the safe havens are an example of the sort of community activity that will be required as Britain struggles to recover from the downturn. Jowell said that the CitySafe initiative was infinitely more impressive than the “big society” championed by the prime minister.

“David Cameron was asking community organisations to do more while at the same time savaging their funding directly and indirectly,” she said.

By arrangement with the Guardian

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