Street crime wave blamed on truants

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Forty per cent of all street robberies and a third of car thefts and burglaries in London are committed by truants, it emerged yesterday.

Now Tony Blair is to launch a campaign against truants after being shown evidence of a youngsters' crime wave.

Studies have revealed that the culprits are mainly boys who lose interest in lessons because of poor literacy skills.

The Prime Minister has ordered the Downing Street social exclusion unit - set up last month to devise new solutions to the problems of poverty - to think up new ways to tackle truancy.

Sir Paul Condon, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, told the unit that most of the offences took place during school hours, according to reports.

The unit was also shown figures from the Basic Skills Agency which reveal low educational standards among offenders aged 17-25. Interviews with 500 such offenders showed 21 per cent could not write their name and address properly. A further 48 per cent could not write their name and address and give more than two pieces of information about themselves without making mistakes.

About half had difficulty telling the time and giving the days of the week or the months of the year in the right order. Only 30 per cent could fill in a job application form.

The survey was carried out through interviews with offenders from towns and rural areas in Shropshire.

About 90 per cent said they had been truants at some stage during their school career and 64 per cent said they were habitual truants, absent for a day or more a week soon after starting secondary school.

The average age when truanting started was 12 to 13, and 55 per cent said they committed crimes while absent from the classroom.

Trevor Phillips, page 15