Five-year-old rape suspect among hundreds of Norfolk children investigated for crime
PUBLISHED: 11:53 22 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:09 22 January 2018
Rape, burglary and racial aggravation are just some of the crimes hundreds of young children have been investigated for in Norfolk.
Figures from Norfolk Police reveal that children under the age of 10 - and as young as two - were suspects in more than 700 incidents since 2012.
Offences include robbery, serious sexual offences, theft and arson.
In 2016, a five-year-old was reported to police for rape, while last year a seven-year-old was reported for burglary.
And in 2014, a two-year-old was reported to police for violence against another person - the youngest suspect in the past three years.
Because no child under the age of 10 can be found guilty of an offence, Norfolk police said no formal action can be taken against them.
Instead, it said officers look to identify the underlying cause of the crime to ensure appropriate safeguarding action is taken.
Temporary detective superintendent Andy Coller said: “When we are notified of a crime involving a young person, we investigate why the crime is committed and not the child themselves.
“It is paramount that we identify the underlying cause of these crimes so we can take appropriate safeguarding action alongside partner agencies.”
Giving examples, he said a child stealing food could be a sign of neglect, while sexualised behaviour could be due to some form of sexual abuse.
Mr Coller added: “I want to stress the fact that we act in the best interests of the public and most importantly the child.
“It is our duty to protect all members of society and children can represent some of the most vulnerable and most in need.”
The number of children being reported for crime increased by more than 120pc in the past five years.
Norfolk Police said it investigated 73 incidents in 2012 - but the figure shot up to 163 as of October 2017.
Criminal damage is one of the most commonly reported crimes involving children, with 36 offences recorded in 2016.
Seventeen of the criminal damage incidents that year involved suspects aged eight.
Meanwhile, there have been nine reported rape offences since 2016 involving suspects aged between six and nine.
The figures also show that in 2017 there were six reports of race or religious aggravation where the suspect was aged six to eight.
Mr Coller said “recent developments” around national crime recording standards are “most likely” to account for the increase in numbers.
He added: “This doesn’t necessarily mean there is an increase in such crimes being committed.”
Violence against a person was the most common crime involving suspects aged up to nine, with 296 offences reported since 2014.
Child curfew order
While children under 10 cannot be charged with committing a criminal offence, they can be given a local child curfew or child safety order.
A child curfew enables police to ban children from being in a public place between 9pm and 6am unless accompanied by an adult.
If they break the curfew, they can then be placed under the supervision of a youth offending team, which is known as a youth safety order.
The order normally lasts for up to three months but in some cases it can last for up to 12 months.
If a child does not stick to the order, the court can consider if the child should be taken into care.
The NSPCC said parents worried about their child being involved in criminal activity should contact the charity.
Colin Peak, NSPCC’s regional head of service for the East of England, said: “Younger children are unlikely to understand the consequences of their actions or be able to effectively participate in criminal proceedings.
“The criminal justice system must support children who have committed offences to change their behaviour while holding young people increasingly accountable for their actions as they mature.”
Norfolk County Council said when a crime involves a child, it will assess whether they are at risk of neglect or abuse and provide the “appropriate” support.
The council said the support could be from early help or social work teams and the level of help offered will depend of each child’s circumstances.
• Call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000. Children can contact Childline on 0800 1111.
Signs of criminal activity - what parents should look out for
The NSPCC said signs that a child is involved in criminal activity include:
• Children coming home with expensive items. For example, new trainers or new phones.
• Coming home late
• Going straight to their bedroom without any communication
• Poor attendance in school
The NSPCC runs a ‘turn the page’ service in its Peterborough service centre, which helps children and young people tackle harmful sexual behaviour, in an effort to avoid offending as adults. For more information, visit nspcc.org.uk
Colin Peak, from the NSPCC, said; “If you’re worried that a young person is involved with criminal activity or is at risk, the NSPCC can help.
“Our specially trained helpline practitioners can offer guidance on how to talk to the young person about potential dangers, how you can support them and which organisation in your local area can help.”
Norfolk County Council not always notified
Norfolk County Council said it was not always notified if a child was being investigated for a crime by police.
It said it is up to the officer’s discretion as to whether the council should be told.
A council spokesman said: “Factors that influence such decisions are considered, such as if the child or their family is known to the police, is this the first instance that the child has come to the attention of the Police and obviously taking into consideration the seriousness of the crime.”
Once the county council has been notified, the spokesman said incidents are screened by police and children’s services, and a decision is made on how to address any concerns.
“Our paramount consideration is to ensure that children and young people are safeguarded and that where necessary and proportionate that the child and family have access to appropriate universal, targeted or specialist support as required,” the spokesman added.