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Sunday, 19 May, 2002, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
One in four children 'admits crime'
Police talk to youngsters on Britain's streets
Youth crime was most common in London
A quarter of all children between the ages of 11 and 16 have committed a crime in the past year, according to a survey.

More than 5,000 schoolchildren and 500 youngsters excluded from school were questioned by pollsters Mori for the government's Youth Justice Board.

It found that one in four children still at school had committed a crime, while law-breaking was much more common among excluded pupils - almost two-thirds admitted doing so.

The most typical offender was an excluded boy aged 14 to 16 - committing on average 44 different offences.


These persistent young offenders... are the people who are doing most of the crime

Lord Warner, chairman of Youth Justice Board

Lord Warner, chairman of the Youth Justice Board, said the survey demonstrated the importance of cracking down on persistent young offenders.

"The trick is that we have got to catch... these persistent young offenders because they are the people who are doing most of the crime," he told BBC News.

"What we actually are seeing is these youngsters not being detected, not being brought to justice through the courts.

"What we have got to do is stop these youngsters who are out of school, who are averaging in the forties in terms of the number of crimes they commit in the previous year."

Boredom

He emphasised the need for greater crime detection, particularly in inner-city areas.

"In some parts of the country the police have been very effective in catching those youngsters."

Lord Warner, chairman of Youth Justice Board
Lord Warner wants greater detection rates of youth crime
But he added that detection rates varied widely, with London faring particularly badly.

All of the children surveyed who admitted committing crime cited boredom, peer pressure and being drunk as the reasons for offending.

Stealing or threatening someone were the most common offences, when grouped by type, among both groups of children.

The top five crimes among school pupils were fare-dodging, graffiti, shoplifting, criminal damage and carrying a weapon.

One in five also admitted stealing from school, handling stolen goods, or stealing from home.

Carrying a gun

Excluded pupils tended to commit more serious crimes - the top five were handling stolen goods, assault, carrying a weapon, shoplifting and buying drugs.

One in four excluded pupils said they had stolen a mobile phone within the last year.

Pupils' most common crimes
Fare-dodging: 46%
Graffiti: 34%
Shoplifting: 33%
Criminal damage: 29%
Possessing a weapon: 29%

About 40% admitted vehicle theft and arson, a quarter had attempted burglary and almost one in five claimed to have carried a gun.

The survey found offending levels had not changed significantly over the last few years among pupils, although they had risen slightly among excluded pupils.

The biggest jump last year was among excluded pupils handling stolen goods - up 16% since 2001.

Detection

The study also indicated young offenders were now slightly more likely to be punished for their crimes.

Less than a fifth were now getting away with offences without some sort of punishment from either police, youth offending teams or the courts.

Excluded pupils' most common crimes
Handling stolen goods: 60%
Assault: 57%
Possessing a weapon: 55%
Shoplifting: 49%
Buying drugs: 48%

The survey suggested this might be a good thing, as those who had been caught once appeared more able to distinguish between right and wrong than others.

For example, 47% of excluded pupils caught for an offence thought it was wrong to carry a knife as a weapon, compared with 36% of excluded offenders who had not been caught.

However, that knowledge did not appear to have much impact on re-offending - three in five were still committing more crimes after being caught.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jane Warr
"The most common crimes were vehicle theft, burglary and criminal damage"
See also:

10 May 02 | UK Politics
Courts cut delays in youth cases
29 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Truant plan sparks split
24 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair sets street crime deadline
16 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blunkett targets young criminals
22 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Magistrates raise 'young thugs' fears
19 May 02 | Scotland
Jail threat for offenders' parents
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