Banned: the boy racist, 13, who terrorised estate

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Sandwiched between his mother and a female solicitor at the back of the court, the chubby, pale child squirmed in his seat. His shirt was neatly ironed and he had an innocent air. But this boy had reduced adults to quivering wrecks.

Sandwiched between his mother and a female solicitor at the back of the court, the chubby, pale child squirmed in his seat. His shirt was neatly ironed and he had an innocent air. But this boy had reduced adults to quivering wrecks.

At just 13, this crop-haired racist had terrorised the ethnic minority population of his predominantly white estate, eventually slashing a black road-sweeper across the face with a knife.

To the professionals in court he was an extremely troubled child with psychiatric problems, who needed "robust" guidance. To the residents of the Bermondsey estate he had tormented, he was a "nasty little git" who had shown them nothing but violent contempt. And yesterday he became possibly the youngest child in Britain to be sentenced for racist crimes, narrowly escaping detention.

Instead the boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was sentenced to the maximum three-year supervision order and banned from the area he grew up in for the same period under an antisocial behaviour order (Asbo).

Peering down at the childbefore her, with his hands behind his back, the judge, Miss Recorder Jacqueline Beech, said: "You are a danger to the community. Your youth-offending team worker agrees. She states you pose a threat to the public. I am satisfied you do, particularly to members of ethnic minorities you come across."

Detective Inspector Rachel Bennett said hate crime on the estate where he had waged a "campaign of violence" had dropped significantly since his arrest.

The court was told that the boy approached the road-sweeper on the estate last June after the man had seen him with other youths smashing a car with a golf club. The boy attacked his cart repeatedly with such ferocity that the club broke. Hurling racist abuse, he threatened to kill the cleaner, then slashed him. A day earlier he had targeted a family on the estate, calling the daughter a "fucking black bitch" and smashing their window.

At a trial in February he denied assault and actual bodily harm as well as racially aggravated criminal damage but was found guilty. He was cleared of seven racially aggravated charges or they were dropped. Yesterday Det Insp Bennett told the court many more people had complained of being victimised by the child but there had been insufficient evidence to proceed.

Detective Constable Gbolahan Jegede added: "The boy's threats and actions left a string of victims in disillusionment, confusion and fear during those two months. They were bewildered why they had been singled out for this violent and offensive treatment."

Former neighbours on the Rouel Road estate remember the boy with little affection, describing him as the ringleader of a group of disruptive and nasty youngsters. "I hope they lock him up," said one of the red-jacketed community wardens who now patrol the area. "He has been a terror around here for years even though he is only small."

He grew up in a deprived area where the long-term resident pensioners still try to maintain order with their carefully tended flower pots. The few ethnic minority families there come to their doors cautiously. Some were too scared to speak out. But one home-carer said: "I work with a black lady. One night they threw bottles at her car and jumped on it. She does not like coming back at night now. She is scared."

Police say the annual National Front march through the streets is "pathetically small" but it does attract a following. A pensioner too afraid to give his name added: "They get strong support. Some of my neighbours joined the march." In this atmosphere, the young racist began to run wild, seldom attending school. From the age of four he had been a handful. He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder - though one doctor did not believe this contributed to his crimes - as well as conduct and emotional disorders.

Annette Henry, for the defence, said: "Piles of documents show [his parents] writing to absolutely every type of professional educational authority and local authority. They are recognised as being an extremely hard-working, caring and supportive family, but at their wits' end."

By last year their son had already been in court, reprimanded for assault, carrying a blade, shoplifting, theft and criminal damage. They moved to Kent but on visits back to Bermondsey to see his grandmother he went off on violent "jaunts". When he was arrested, his parents said they could not cope and he was held in a secure home where he will stay for two more months. Then, the court heard, he will be rehabilitated back into society.

Yesterday the child, now 14, yawned as a host of experts fought to save him from detention, promising vigorous controls minimising any risks to the public.

The judge told him that if he had two warnings for antisocial behaviour he would be back in court. Then he would be incarcerated.