Criticism of 'lenient' sentence on triplets

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A set of 13-year-old triplets accused of intimidating shopkeepers have had a two-year supervision order imposed on them by a magistrates' court. But the victims of Shane, Natalie and Sarah Morris criticised the law for not allowing the teenagers to be locked up.

The triplets, from Gillingham, Kent, were found guilty earlier this month of breaching an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) imposed last February. Yesterday, magistrates in Chatham said the three teenagersneeded constant supervision to prevent them breaching the order again, and put them in the charge of a youth offenders' team officer.

Court officials said the "statutory limitations on sentencing powers" meant that the triplets could not be detained. The triplets appeared in court wearing tracksuits and accompanied by their mother, Shirley. They have been receiving private one-to-one tuition. Ann Echlin, chairwoman of the bench, said they had too much time on their hands, resulting in their bad behaviour.

"The reports tell us that you now realise that you have to behave if you're going to keep out of trouble. We believe that lack of full-time education has been a significant contributory factor in this case," she said.

The court heard the triplets were banned from a string of stores after they were made the subjects of the ASBO order. But in October they hurled abuse at staff outside Woolworths in Gillingham High Street, kicked the door and threatened to put a petrol bomb through the door of the home of a security guard.

Tim Woodlock, owner of Bikes Bikes Bikes in Gillingham High Street, said he was disgusted that the triplets had been allowed to walk free. He said: "I'm disgusted that they will be allowed to go back on the streets and carry on where they left off. This is just a sign to all the other kids that they can do what they like and get away with it. The only answer is to remove them from society."