Crime really does run in the family, according to the findings of a 35-year-long study.
Researchers at Cambridge University's Institute of Criminology found that if children had a convicted parent by the time they were 10 that was the "best predictor" of them becoming criminal and anti- social themselves.
Half of all convictions notched up by those in the study were accounted for by 6 per cent of the families while 10 per cent of the families involved accounted for nearly two-thirds of all convictions.
The Home Office-funded findings prompted renewed calls yesterday for more pre-school education and classes in parenting skills to help tackle the roots of crime.
Professor David Farrington, who carried out the research, followed 397 men, randomly selected from those born in London in 1953, and their families.
More than 150 of the men ended up with convictions for offences ranging from burglary to drug abuse. Seven in ten convicted fathers and a slightly higher number of convicted mothers ended up with a convicted child.
When the study began in 1961, the boys were aged eight or nine and lived mainly in conventional two-parent families. But two-thirds of the families had a convicted member. Such circumstances were a strong indicator that the boys would be wife-beaters by the age of 32 and that they would have a conviction by that age, the study found.
The research, published in the journal Legal and Criminal Psychology, concluded: "A convicted family member influenced a boy's likelihood of delinquency independently of other important factors such as poor housing, overcrowding and low school attainment."
Professor Farrington said there was now no doubt that criminal behaviour was transmitted from parents to children. "If the parental influence isn't countered, their children will become criminals."
The institute had requested more pre-school education for the children and parent training for the adults to reverse the spiral, but the Home Office had refused.
Paul Cavadino, chairman of the Penal Affairs Consortium, which represents 27 groups, criticised the failure to take action.
"Research in the United States shows that for every dollar spent on pre- school education in disadvantaged high- crime areas seven dollars were saved in the criminal justice system through prevention."
Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman, said a Labour government would give the courts powers to force criminals and their children into specialised education. "We have to target the children. We have to break the cycle," he said.
"I teach my children the difference between right and wrong. Criminal families teach theirs wrong and wrong."
Sir Ivan Lawrence, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "We realised that if you want to get at the roots of crime you have to get to the children of criminal families. The problem is that no one has thought of a practical way of doing it."
t The fall in public confidence in the police that was seen through the Eighties has been halted, according to Home Office figures published yesterday.Reuse content