Highest number of children in Lancashire breaking the law for the first time for three years

Child criminal capital of the North West is Blackpool
Child criminal capital of the North West is Blackpool

The number of junior offenders in Lancashire entering the justice system is at its highest level since 2016.

This is despite longer-term trends showing far fewer children are being prosecuted now, compared with a decade ago.

The latest Ministry of Justice figures show 222 children were convicted or cautioned for the first time in the 12 months to September 2018.

That’s a 12 per cent rise on the previous year, and the highest number since 2016 when 277 youngsters were cautioned or convicted. The data does not include repeat offenders.

Across England and Wales, the number of children entering the criminal justice has reduced dramatically over the last 10 years, by 85 per cent.

In Lancashire, the number being convicted or cautioned has dropped by 87 per cent, from 1,707 offenders in 2008.

The child criminal capital of the North West is Blackpool, with 403 youth offenders per 100,000. The area with the highest rate in England and Wales is Newcastle, with 573 per 100,000 under 18s.

Just for Kids Law, a charity which helps ensure children's legal rights are respected, said that despite the decrease, it still has concerns around youngsters entering the criminal justice system.

Chief executive Enver Solomon said: "These figures show the benefits to society which come when police and youth offending teams focus on diverting children from the criminal justice system, rather than punitive methods that do little other than funnel them into a life of crime.

"We are concerned, however, that progress could be jeopardised by knee jerk policies such as the new knife crime prevention orders, which are likely to drag a large number of children into the criminal justice system."

Mr Solomon said there were still "many outstanding issues", such as holding children in police cells for extended periods of time and poor quality legal representation.

"Children have different needs and entitlements to adults, but too few lawyers are specialists in how to work with them, leading to missed opportunities to divert young people from the justice system," he added.

The figures also show that Lancashire has a lower rate of youth offenders than the North West does on average.

There are 207 children cautioned or convicted per 100,000 youngsters in the area, compared with 250 per 100,000 across the region.Nationwide there were 13,000 first-time youth offenders during the time period.

They were outnumbered by re-offenders, more than 17,000 in total, who made up 57 per cent of the child criminals.

There were more than five times as many boys as girls who were cautioned or convicted.