CHILDREN under the age of ten have been charged with carrying knives, serious assaults and housebreakings in the Lothians over the last year, new figures revealed today.
The youngsters committed a total of 166 offences in the force area between last April and March – a rate of more than three a week.
With other offences including racial abuse, fire-raising and possession of offensive weapons carried out by under-tens, the problem of youth offending was today branded “staggering”.
The figures, however, also revealed a large drop in the number of offences, falling from 221 the previous year and 311 in 2009/10.
Police chiefs said that early intervention may be a factor behind the trend, with diversionary activities for children on the “cusp of offending” cited as a positive influence.
Shoplifting among under-tens rose, with 17 charged last year, while two were caught carrying a knife.
Scottish Conservative Lothians MSP Gavin Brown said: “This is a staggering number of crimes committed by under-tens, and some are particularly serious.
“The Scottish Government needs to get a grip on this problem before it gets any worse.”
Earlier this month, figures showed that the Children’s Reporter dealt with 299 under-18s who committed crimes in the Capital last year, a fall on the previous year’s total of 355. The offenders included youngsters aged eight, nine and ten.
The age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is eight, and youngsters aged below that are not charged with crimes.
Superintendent Kevin Murray, head of the force’s safer communities department, said: “Police have a responsibility to investigate all crimes, and when a crime is committed by a child under the age of criminal responsibility there remains an obligation to ensure that the response is proper and proportionate to both the needs of the victim and the young person.
“We work closely with children’s service to address any underlying issues regarding a child’s behaviour and welfare.
“Within the Lothian and Borders Police area this may include restorative justice programmes, which allow young people to realise the impact of their behaviour on victims, and encourage them to take responsibility for their actions.
“Our diversionary projects continue to be successful, and we run a range of activities throughout the year to reach as many children as possible.”
Police, social workers, education staff and officials from the council’s youth offending and antisocial behaviour units meet on a weekly basis as part of the Getting It Right For Every Child programme. The scheme assesses the needs of every child charged in Edinburgh during the previous seven days.
Councillor Paul Godzik, the city’s children and families leader, said: “The council is committed to offering the right service at the right time to every child and their family.”