Bristol Evening Post, pg. 1: Tiny tearaways terrorise west

Monday, 18 May, 2009

C hild yobs as young as 10, known by police for their persistent offending, are committing up to eight crimes a day in the West Country causing havoc in towns, villages and cities across the region.

Shocking new figures have led to claims that Labour has failed to protect the region after a "decade of yobbery" and failed to live up to its promise of tackling the causes of crime. The statistics on the number of children repeatedly convicted for offences has more than doubled since Labour came to power.

A persistent young offender is a juvenile aged between 10 and 17 found guilty in court on three or more separate occasions for one or more recordable offence - and who is arrested again within three years of their last sentence.

Official Ministry of Justice figures show there were 543 in the South West when Labour came to power in 1997, and the number had more than doubled to 1,147 last year.

There were 394 in Avon and Somerset, 164 in Gloucestershire, 143 in Dorset, 111 in Wiltshire and 335 in Devon and Cornwall. There were also 173 in the Gwent police force area, which includes Monmouthshire, and 312 in West Mercia, which covers Herefordshire. And the number of crimes they were responsible for topped more than 2,000 in the region, with almost another 900 in Gwent and West Mercia.

Nationally the number of persistent young offenders rose 60 per cent from 9,868 in 1997 to 15,819 last year.

They committed almost 29,000 crimes, up from 16,000 in 1997, a rise of more than 80 per cent.

Shadow Police Minister David Ruffley said: "These new figures show that Labour Ministers have presided over a decade of yobbery, fuelled by massive increases in the number of repeat young offenders.

"These figures make a mockery of Labour's promises to tackle youth crime."

Mr Ruffley added: "Police are concerned that a huge amount of their time is spent dealing with the same young offenders. I agree with the police that this revolving door of criminality is unacceptable."

Ministers pledged to halve the average time from arrest to sentence from 142 days to 71 days. The target was first met in 2002 and has been met in all but one year since.

Justice Minister David Hanson said: "Young offenders are now being dealt with twice as quickly as they were prior to 1997, which means there are much shorter intervals between sentencing occasions for those youths who repeatedly offend.

"Youth sentencing is therefore more timely, and for repeat offenders more frequent, than it used to be prior to 1997." He said education and training for young offenders was helping cut re-offending.

"We want to help young people get away from crime. But we are clear we will use tough enforcement when any young person oversteps the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and we will ensure that the most serious crimes are investigated and prosecuted," he added.

The figures emerged as a report by a right-wing think tank claimed crime costs households in England and Wales an average of £3,000 every year.

The Policy Exchange report found, under the Labour government of the past 12 years, crime prevention has taken second place to law enforcement, with the result that crime rates have remained higher than might otherwise be the case.

The report warns of a "recessionary crimewave", citing a 19 per cent rise in violent crime during the last economic crash.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We do not believe it's inevitable crime will rise during the recession and the Government is determined to stay on the front foot in keeping crime down.

"Statistics published last month actually show that, overall, crime is stable or falling and the risk of being a victim remains low."