Boris Johnson in tough units call for young rioters

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The Independent Online

London Mayor Boris Johnson has called for rioting and looting youngsters to be sent to tough units specialising in dealing with unruly children.

Mr Johnson wants courts to be able to send those aged 11 to 15 convicted of being involved in disturbances to pupil referral units (PRUs).

At present, only headteachers can order a child to be removed from their school and moved to a PRU.

In a letter sent to Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, Mr Johnson said: "Depriving the offender of their customary school place is something which would hit home.

"It would isolate them from their peer group during the school day, preventing bragging rights on school premises, and sends a salutary warning to other pupils that such behaviour will result in temporary ejection from the school community.

"Referring them to a PRU puts them in a unit where teachers are already skilled in addressing unacceptable behaviour but at the same time ensures that their education is continued."

PRUs have been dubbed "21st century borstals" and host children expelled from school. There are about 420 across England and teachers can opt out of the National Curriculum.

The PRUs are subject to inspections by schools watchdog Ofsted.

Mr Johnson, who last week called on the Government to scrap its plan to cut police numbers following the riots which flared up and down the land, said the punishment should be available to magistrates dealing with the youngest criminals involved in disorder.

He wrote that he is "deeply concerned about the need to ensure that all those convicted of charges relating to the recent riots are made to face up to the enormity of their appalling conduct and the impact that it has had on their community".

In the letter, seen by the Press Association, he said: "All those involved should be held to account for their behaviour and the capital will feel badly let down if the punishment available to the courts does not support this objective.

"I am therefore very concerned to learn that some younger offenders appear to feel that they will be able to avoid any meaningful sanctions, believing that they will not be subject to a custodial sentence and that any community sentence is not a significant deterrent."

He calls for rioters and looters to meet their victims to hear for themselves "the impact that their criminal actions have had on businesses and residents alike and to apologise for their disgusting behaviour".

He wants courts to force criminals to clean up their communities, following the example of the volunteer "broom army" who took to the streets to sweep away debris and repair damage.

Conservative Mr Johnson, who is seeking a second term as mayor in next year's election, added: "If ordinary law-abiding citizens can respond so positively to the call to help their neighbours and community in their time of need, surely we should expect nothing less from those responsible."

After today's meeting of the Cobra emergency committee in Whitehall, Mr Johnson said youths convicted over the riots would have their free travel entitlement scrapped.

He said: "We want to look at all sorts of ways so that young people who have been involved in rioting and looting do not simply walk and wave two fingers to the authorities and say, 'Well I enjoyed all that' or take it as a badge of honour.

"There are very productive things that can come from this. We are going to look at restorative justice options, we are looking at ideas about sending them to PRUs rather than straight back to school.

"Those in London who have the benefit of free travel will obviously have the right removed as a result of being involved, but they can earn it back if they do good in their communities.

"That will be quite a burdensome and laborious process."

The mayor said many of those charged over riots in London have previous convictions, allowing the justice authorities to "lift the great, big rock and see the creepy crawlies underneath".

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Under-18s convicted of an offence already undertake a robust programme of punishment and reform, such as having a strict curfew imposed or being supervised for a number of hours a day as well as completing their education.

"Programmes like this are put in place to give young people what they need to turn their back on a life of crime and instead positively contribute to society.

"Pupil Referral Units are usually reserved for schoolchildren whose behaviour has been considered by their headteacher to be too disruptive within the school environment, but we will consider this proposal for their future use."