Booze to blame for youth crime boom
POLICE officials have blamed under-age drinking for the soaring numbers of young people persistently committing crime in Suffolk.Phil Smith, secretary of the Suffolk Police Federation, accused some off-licences of thinking more of their profits than the law, and called for the courts to get tougher on young people who commit crime.
By Danielle Nuttall
POLICE officials have blamed under-age drinking for the soaring numbers of young people persistently committing crime in Suffolk.
Phil Smith, secretary of the Suffolk Police Federation, accused some off-licences of thinking more of their profits than the law, and called for the courts to get tougher on young people who commit crime.
But the drinks industry insisted tough checks were carried out before off-licence staff sold alcohol.
Mr Smith was speaking after it was revealed the number of young offenders referred to the Suffolk Youth Offending Service had risen from 898 between January 2002 and October 2002 to 1,156 for the same period this year – an increase of 28.7%. The Suffolk Youth Offending Service was set up in 1999 and aims to reduce youth offending with a range of services working with individual offenders and community-based programmes.
Youth offenders are usually referred to the service the second time they commit an offence, having already been given a warning by police the first time.
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Of the referrals this year, more than 50% came from the southern area of the county, although Ipswich saw a drop in the number of final warnings given.
Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft were both said to have seen a substantial increase in youth referrals.
Mr Smith said: "Alcohol has undoubtedly a part to play. I was in an off-licence last night and a young lad, who couldn't have been any more than 16, tried to obtain some alcohol.
"It was only because of the diligence of the staff that he did not. I would suspect some off-licences think more of their profits than the law."
Mr Smith claimed the legal system was now allowing young people committing crime to go unpunished until at least their third offence.
"There really is a book of rules to go through before you even get a youth to court," he said.
"I think there has to be a toughening up because I think it's a joke to some degree that you can commit an offence and get a warning, commit another offence and get a final warning, and not until you commit the third offence does the matter get to court.
"Once the youth gets to know this, where's the incentive to stop him doing it? The message going out is you can shoplift and all you are going to get is a warning. Where's that deterring people to stop committing crime?"
But Kay Lindsley, Norfolk representative of the Licensed Victuallers' Association, said: "Anyone working in an off-licence must understand an approved scheme in relation to under-age drinking. The scheme requires proof of ID, driving licence or passports."
Peter Fox, performance manager of the Suffolk Youth Offending Service, said the figures related to the number of youths who were referred to it and were not indicative of the amount of young people who offended.
"There seems to be little doubt whatsoever that the police have been extremely successful in prosecuting greater numbers of youth people who offend," he added.
"I think our service is engaging with young people coming before the courts. We do attempt to influence young people away from offending at the earliest opportunity we can."
Chris Yule, chief prosecutor of Suffolk and chairman of the Local Criminal Justice Board, said: "The increase in referrals to the youth offending team illustrates a concentration from all criminal justice partners in narrowing the justice gap.
"With increased police concentration on youth offenders and a co-ordinated policy towards fast tracking youths through the legal system, it is inevitable that the referral rate will increase.
"The youth offending team's ability to deal with this increase illustrates their efficiency and capability in dealing with youth offenders, an essential component of the local criminal justice system."