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Children under 10 – and some aged just four – have committed at least 34,000 crimes in the last decade, shocking figures reveal. Police say many of the youngest have carried out offences including burglary, arson and theft.
A lawyer who represented one of the child defendants in the James Bulger case believes the reality is probably even worse than the figures suggest.
Nearly two-thirds of police forces across England and Wales responded to the child crime study by Portsmouth University.
The number of offences varied greatly between areas – but if the results were replicated across all 43 authorities, that would soar to nearly 60,000.
Solicitor Laurence Lee represented Bulger defendant Jon Venables, then 10, one of two youngsters who abducted, tortured, and killed James, two, in Bootle, Liverpool, in 1993.
Mr Lee said: “I think these numbers are underestimating it, to be honest. Youth crime is on the up, unfortunately. It’s a very sad reflection on society.
“What’s the answer? Education? I don’t know the answer. Unfortunately, parts of society are cancerous and are beyond help.
“The vast majority of children are good, but unfortunately they are drowned out by the minority.”
People working in the criminal justice system say recruiting youngsters under 10, who are too young to be prosecuted, provides a cynical loophole for criminal gangs.
County lines drug barons know that if they are caught, the children will be safe from conviction.
Exposure to crime, violence and pornography through the internet is also putting youngsters at increased risk of offending.
Many are able to access material which they are too young to understand, but old enough to imitate.
Primary school teachers have expressed huge concern at the language used by pupils amid the rise of “influencers” on social media sites.
In Essex, 32 under 10s were suspected of rape in 2021 – and one was accused of drug trafficking.
In one harrowing case in Derbyshire, a boy of five was suspected of stalking a terrified victim.
Meanwhile, Oliver Twist-style Fagin gangs have used children as young as four to carry out burglary, arson and shoplifting.
But data released by 25 police forces, asked under the Freedom of Information Act, show under-10s are also accused of the most serious crimes, including rape and drugs offences.
A total of 33,444 crimes were committed by those nine or under since 2011, according to the figures provided by 55 per cent of police authorities.
Because 10 is the age of criminal responsibility, they cannot be charged with committing an offence.
Figures suggest child crime is a growing problem, with 4,729 UK crimes being committed in 2021 – up from 3,815 in 2020 and 4,447 in 2019.
It has more than tripled in the last decade. Data show just 1,497 offences were committed in 2011.
Urban areas experienced significantly more under-age crime than rural districts. Greater Manchester Police dealt with more offences than any other force – 773. Dorset Police had the fewest, just eight.
Essex Police reported 554, the second most offences in 2021, followed by Lancashire Constabulary with 496, and London’s Metropolitan force with 408.
Police in Cheshire reported just 11 and the Bedfordshire force 61.
In Greater Manchester, a child of nine was accused of arson endangering life and three under-10s, including a nine-year-old girl, had a knife at school.
In the city itself, 43 under-10s were accused of child porn offences.
The Met said 55 sex offences were committed by children in 2021 – 45 by boys and 10 by girls. The most common crime across all forces was violence without injury. Shoplifting and criminal damage were frequent child offences.
Mr Lee believes every child crime case could be treated differently and warns that vulnerable youngsters face a huge risk.
He said: “A lot of kids under 10, knowing they can’t be prosecuted, are doing the dirty work for drug dealers and other criminals.
“A lot of people say the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 12. Well, if it had, the Bulger killers couldn’t have been prosecuted.”
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