Absconders from child centre raise town's crime rate

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The Independent Online
ABSCONDERS FROM a centre that houses many of the most disordered children in Britain are responsible for about 14 per cent of detected crime in the area, according to police figures.

Durham police said that absconders from the Aycliffe Centre for Children at Newton Aycliffe, Co Durham, committed 160 of the 1,102 crimes in the town last year. The new town has a population of about 35,000.

The figures also show that out of 2,625 detected crimes in the police division, 268 were attributable to children from the centre. These comprised 79 acts of criminal damage, 60 thefts, 56 assaults, 51 burglaries and 22 car crimes.

The figures include 50 crimes, mainly assaults on staff, that were committed inside the centre and reported to police. The remaining 211 crimes amount to about 8 per cent of the total of 2,625. The children are also likely to be responsible for a similar proportion of undetected crimes.

Local people have repeatedly complained that children from the centre were responsible for burglaries and other crimes, but the figures are the first official confirmation. Tony Moore, of Durham County Council, yesterday called for a review of security at the centre.

He said: 'Some of these children are absconding and some are walking out officially. We are not just talking about young children, but older teenagers, there for very serious offences. I have the utmost sympathy for staff, who do a very good job in difficult circumstances, but things have simply got too lax.' He has demanded a full report from the social services department, which runs the centre.

The disclosures follow claims by the National Association for Young People in Care that excessive force was being used to control difficult inmates. Although the centre contains children who have committed serious criminal offences, it is not a prison. The largest centre of its type in Europe, it can house up to 150 residents, aged between 8 and 19, and has a special secure unit.

Durham police said: 'We are fully aware of the problems that the residents of the Aycliffe Centre can cause, and we work in close liaison with the school.' The force has a full-time liaison officer who is responsible for monitoring crime levels.

Both the county council and Mr Masud Hoghughi, the director of the centre, have strongly rejected the allegations of excessive use of force but have accepted that absconding is a problem.

Durham's child protection team, which includes senior police officers and social workers, is investigating allegations of abuse.

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