The number of serious crimes committed by children under 10 – including rape and arson – was today branded “worrying” by Lancashire’s policing boss.
In the past five years, 818 youngsters under 10 have been linked to 655 offences in Lancashire, including
sexual assault, possessing knives and racial abuse.
Because the children are under the age of criminal responsibility, they cannot be prosecuted but are dealt with by youth offending teams.
Data released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that in 2008/09 there were 39 offences. In 2012/13, this had shot up to 183 –
although police say the huge rise is linked to a change in the way the offences are
Today, community leaders have raised concerns about the figures and say that more needs to be done to tackle the problem.
Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Clive Grunshaw, said: “The fact so many under 10s are committing crimes is obviously a worrying statistic and it is particularly concerning to see serious crimes such as rape and racial assault being committed by children.
“This is not a problem we can ignore, and highlights the importance of the Early Intervention strategies being developed across the county. We need to be targeting these children at a young age and ensuring both they and their families get the specialist help and support they need.
“By intervening in children’s lives at an early stage, it is hoped we can divert them away from criminality and create a more positive future for them.
“This is vital to improve the lives of our most vulnerable residents and prevent further worrying statistics such as these.”
In the past five years the crimes included four rapes, 11 sexual assaults of girls under 13, five counts of possessing knives, nine arsons and one racially or religiously aggravated assault.
Other crimes included 261 offences of criminal damage, 80 counts of shoplifting and 130 assaults.
Gordon Wang, a member of the Ingol Community Association, which works with youngsters on Preston’s Ingol and Tanterton estate, said the crimes were “horrendous.”
Mr Wang said it is concerning that adult prejudices are filtering down to children and said the cases of rape were “shocking.”
He added: “The criminal responsibilty age has to be abolished. If someone has committed a crime, they have to be punished for it. They are responsible, they did the crime and by the very essence they are responsible.”
He said the alternative would be for the criminal age of responsibility to be reduced to school age.
However, campaigners say dealing with the crimes as a welfare issue rather than a criminal justice approach was the right route.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform campaign group, said that taking a welfare approach was the best method.
He said: “When young children are in trouble it is absolutely right that we see it as a welfare issue and not something for the criminal justice system to respond to.
“Indeed, the minimum age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is significantly lower than in most other European countries and we should extend that approach to many more children currently caught up in the criminal justice system.
“Taking a welfare approach does not mean ignoring what has happened, but dealing effectively with the reasons why the child is in trouble with the law and making sure it does not happen again.”
Polcie said they were unable to confirm the individual areas within Lancashire where specific crimes were recorded.
A Lancashire police spokesman said children are dealt with under various schemes when they have committed a crime.
He added: “Children under the age of 10 who commit criminal acts cannot be arrested or charged as the law deems them at that age to be incapable of committing a criminal act and they are therefore classed as under the age of criminal responsibility.
“When children under the age of 10 commit criminal offences the police will still deal with them but in a different way.
“Officers work with relevant partner agencies to deal with the issues that might be causing those behaviours. The work that is done with the child and the level of involvement required from the authorities depends on the level of the offence committed.
“There are various programmes such as local child curfews or child safety orders put in place under the supervision of by Youth Offending Teams (YOTs).
“YOTs are made up of representatives from councils, the police and other agencies that work to keep young people away from crime and are run within local communities, and the processes often involves the parents and families of the children in question. These measures are aimed first and foremost at the protection of the child and the community at large and to prevent them from becoming involved in criminality in the future as they get older.”
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: “The Government believes young people aged 10 and over are able to differentiate between bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing and as such we have no intention of reviewing the age of criminal responsibility.”