Boy aged 11 can be held in custody, minister says

A BOY aged 11 said to be responsible for pounds 150,000 worth of thefts and burglaries should be held under lock and key, Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, has agreed.

Mrs Bottomley has given Leeds City Council powers under the Children Act to apply for a court order which would place the boy in a secure unit for three months. There are only 270 places in such units nationally.

The boy, who has escaped from local authority care repeatedly, was put in a secure unit for three months at the age of 10 a year ago. The Secretary of State's permission is required before any child aged under 13 is placed in a unit.

Professor Norman Tutt, Leeds council's director of social services, said it was a 'quite exceptional case . . . a very young and somewhat under-developed 11-year-old being exploited by adults in serious criminal offences'. The boy is said to have been detained by police more than 60 times.

However, Professor Tutt discounted claims that the boy was already involved in drugs and had spent pounds 500 of the proceeds of a pounds 1,200 public house burglary on a prostitute. Given the boy's development, he said, that was unlikely.

The boy has been in local authority care for two years. His father, who lives in Leeds, described him as 'totally out of control'.

He is alleged to have been involved in pickpocketing, stealing safes from public houses, car theft and burglary. He is 4ft 10ins tall and is said to have escaped from one police cell by wriggling through a food hatch. Professor Tutt said adults had helped him to abscond from local authority care. However, he cannot be kept permanently in a secure unit because he is not a threat to himself or the public. He had been amenable and likeable in the secure unit. .

A boy will appear before Leeds Juvenile Court today accused of burglary at two public houses.