A HARDCORE group of ten teenage criminals have been responsible for a massive crime wave in Edinburgh involving nearly 1,200 offences, it was revealed today.
Children as young as 12 have been charged with dozens of offences, including robbery, assaulting police, housebreaking, joyriding and possession of offensive weapons.
One 14-year-old from the east of the city has committed 168 offences alone to become the most prolific under-16 criminal in the capital.
Experts estimate each youngster may be responsible for up to ten times more crimes, swelling the total to nearly 12,000 offences.
Despite being repeatedly arrested by police, it is understood most of the "top ten" are free to roam the streets.
The figures, released to the Evening News under freedom of information laws, today sparked fury among politicians who called for the serial offenders to be locked up. Police chiefs admitted that offending was a "way of life" for some youngsters, and officers were frequently "just trying to keep a lid on" their activities until they can be handled by adult courts.
The force works with schools, social workers, the city council and other agencies in a bid to prevent the worst young criminals offending as they get older, but officers acknowledge that many will "choose a life of crime".
Retired officer Norrie Grant, the force's restorative justice co-ordinator at Fettes HQ, said: "The kids who are constantly re-offending come from troubled, hard backgrounds. I don't think they do it because they are working the system and know the law.
"It's just their way of life and what they're used to. I don't know if they're developed enough to think like that.
"Many young offenders can grow up and round out and become fairly normal. Others will become career criminals.
"It's a small number who are committing a huge number of offences."
"I think in years to come that we'll still have a top ten of youth offenders, but the number of crimes will be lower because of the work we're doing now."
Police chiefs charged with tackling this "hardcore minority" say persistent offenders were usually suspected of ten times more crimes than those for which they were charged.
Around 60 youth offenders are recorded by police every week in the city, the most serious of which might be reported to the procurator fiscal.
In south Edinburgh, a 15-year-old has been charged with 146 crimes, including robbery, housebreaking and fireraising.
A 12-year-old from the same area was charged with 86 crimes, including housebreaking, assault and road traffic offences.
Murray Shepherd, treasurer of Liberton Community Council, said: "We are particularly disappointed to hear about somebody who has managed to commit so many crimes by such a young age. If it was an Olympic event, that child would certainly qualify for a gold medal.
"Most of the problems in the area are just petty vandalism and fairly low-level things by people in their mid-teens. The kids' swings at Liberton Park were set fire to and burnt down about three or four months ago."
In the north of the capital, a 15-year-old has been charged by police with a total of 125 offences, with housebreaking and assault among the crimes.
Labour councillor for Leith, Gordon Munro, said the biggest problem was youths drinking alcohol, leading to crime. "I really do feel that alcohol is the fuel for the antisocial behaviour in our area," he said.
"Sometimes the youths actually cause danger or harm to themselves. I have seen young women at the Foot of the Walk being dragged out the way of oncoming traffic by friends. They are so inebriated, they don't realise they are in danger."
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA), which ends up dealing with the majority of cases, said every incident was the subject of a "thorough investigation".
"This will involve speaking to police, social work, education and any relevant agencies or individuals who have dealings with the young person.
"If the Reporter decides that the young person needs compulsory measures of supervision, then they will be referred to a Children's Hearing. The Reporter's decision is always based on what is the most appropriate and effective form of intervention which will help tackle that young person's behaviour."
Conservative MSP for the Lothians, Gavin Brown, described the figures as 'terrifying'.
He said: "Clearly the system is not working at all here.
"If somebody is committing that number of crimes clearly they should not be out on the streets. You can't chuck them into a prison but they have to be locked up in some way, shape or form."