Safety... At What Cost?

Naughty children to be registered as potential criminals


By David Bamber
The London Telegraph
November 25, 2001


The police are to set up a secret database of children as young as three who they fear might grow up to become criminals.

Youngsters who behave badly or commit trivial misdemeanours will be put on the confidential register so that they can be monitored and supervised throughout childhood.

The controversial initiative is to be pioneered in 11 London boroughs from March and then expanded nationally. Any child who is thought to be at risk of committing a crime by the police, schools or social services, will be put on the database.

Children involved in cheekiness, minor vandalism and causing nuisances, will be targeted under the scheme.

Their progress will then be monitored at school and on the streets by special squads of police officers and social workers, even though the children have not committed a crime and will not have been warned that they are being watched.

Ian Blair, the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said that the register was needed because of a rise in youngsters turning to violent crime.

The plan grew out of the Damilola Taylor murder investigation on a grim council estate in south London last year. There detectives came across dozens of wild and unruly children who - outside the scope of the present law - were in danger of becoming criminals.

Mr Blair said: "We have identified 11 London boroughs where youth crime is growing most significantly.

"With partners in those boroughs, we intend to create an intelligence nexus which will hold sensitive information about large numbers of children, many of whom have not yet and probably will not drift into criminal activity."

He admitted: "This is pretty revolutionary stuff. There will be lots of worries but as long as it is understood that the purpose of holding this information is to ensure that we should collectively intervene to prevent children from becoming criminal I think that it will be accepted."

He said that schools and social services already had information about young children in danger of becoming criminals but at the moment they did not share this with the police.

He said that the scheme had been inspired by the murder of Damilola, 10, in Southwark. Several youngsters have now been charged with his murder.

Mr Blair said: "With no specific or necessary connection to the individuals charged, the inquiry team found that in some parts of Southwark there was a feeding chain leading to rampant criminality, a mixture of abuse, victimisation and criminality.

"Children who had, Fagin-like, been coerced and taught to steal, children who rose to prominence within their peer group by dint of theft and violence.

"It is not an exaggeration to note that, for some of these children, street gangs provided a safer and more caring environment than their homes or classrooms."

Mr Blair, who has unveiled his plans to the Government's Youth Justice Board, said the inquiry team found evidence of children who had been abused at home and who were subject to bullying and muggings at school and close to home.

He said it had always been thought improper to share information but it was now essential because this could sometimes prevent crimes being committed against children.

He added: "We are aware of examples from within London where caring professionals have been told in confidence by children that they have been victims of quite serious crimes."

The proposal is being examined by Elizabeth France, the Information Commissioner, but the police are confident that it will not breach existing laws. Last night, Liberty, the organisation that campaigns for civil liberties, expressed concern about the plan.

Roger Bingham, the Liberty spokesman, said: "We have a number of concerns about the proposals. For a start, what kind of behaviour will result in being put on this register?

"Who will have access to it, and who will decide whether children go on it or come off it? The aims of the idea might be to reduce crime but there are serious libertarian worries."



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