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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Communities troubled by youth crime
The move by the home secretary to grant powers to lock up persistent offenders as young as 12 will come as welcome news to communities plagued by juvenile crime.

There have been many well-publicised cases around the country, where gangs of youths have terrorised housing estates or individual youngsters have wreaked their own brand of havoc on areas.

In many instances, courts and communities have felt powerless to deal with such tirades of persistent and petty crime.

And even when the offenders in question have been caught, they may still continue to commit low-level crimes while on bail.

'Bail bandits'

High profile cases in recent years have included Safari Boy, in Gloucester - so called because he was sent on a "character-building" safari holiday as part of his probation sentence.

Then there was the so-called Rat Boy, who burgled dozens of homes in Tyneside, and lived rough in a heating duct.

In each case, magistrates were powerless to remand the defendant in custody even if they had seen them return to court again and again for similar offences.

Other stories of so-called "bail bandits" abound.

There was the case of one youngster - nicknamed the Boomerang Boy - who had committed over 1,000 crimes.

Because he was 15, he was bailed and re-entered the community only to commit more crimes.

In another case, a 10-year-old youngster fled to the US while on bail.

He was facing charges of assault, possession of an offensive weapon and attempted robbery.

'Name and shame'

In the absence of greater powers to crack down on wayward youths, a recent trend by magistrates has been to "name and shame" them.

Ben White, 17, and Robert, 15, had each been linked to almost 100 crimes, ranging from harassment and joyriding to intimidation and shoplifting in the town of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.

The courts extended Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) banning the boys from the town centre - and named the pair.

Under the new measures unveiled on Tuesday, the "brothers in crime" could have found themselves subject to much stronger action.

Residents of the Somerset town where the two teenagers had embarked on their crime spree may also have been happier with more stringent measures.

'Terror triplets'

In March this year, magistrates in Kent also named and shamed teenage "terror triplets" who broke an anti-social behaviour order.

Shane, Natalie and Sarah Morris, all 13, had the order imposed on them in February 2001 after a seven-month intimidation campaign in Gillingham town centre.

The courts felt the public had a right to know their identities.

But even if the anonymity of such youths is broken - the end result can be the same for many communities.

Troubled communities

Frequently they find young offenders back in their midst, undeterred by the penalties and largely unintimidated by the law.

Research has even shown that young juveniles are more than twice as likely to offend on bail than adults.

The new measures introduced by David Blunkett will mean that 12- to 16-year-olds can be held on remand if they have a history of crime.

Only time will tell if the powers will go some way to stemming the tide of crime in communities - many of which have been subjected to months and even years of harassment by wayward youths.

See also:

16 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blunkett targets young criminals
20 Mar 02 | England
Brothers in crime stay at large
06 Mar 02 | England
'Terror triplets' named and shamed
23 Jul 98 | UK Politics
Young offenders to get days out
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