Data reveals lives of young rioters


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The Independent Online

More than a third of youngsters involved in this summer's riots had been excluded from school at some point in the last year, figures showed today.

Those involved in the looting and violence which swept through English cities in August were younger, poorer, involved in more trouble and achieved lower grades than average, detailed analysis of the histories of those charged over the disturbances showed.


But gangs "generally did not play a pivotal role", officials said, and most police forces found that fewer than one in 10 of those arrested were gang members.


The figures, which were based on matching Ministry of Justice (MoJ) records with those from the national pupil database held by the Department for Education, showed 36% of young people - some 139 10 to 17-year-olds - who appeared before the courts over the riots had received one or more fixed-term exclusions in 2009/10, compared with just 5.6% of all pupils aged 15.


A total of 11, 3% of young people appearing before courts over the riots, had been permanently excluded, compared with 0.1% of all those children aged 15 at the start of the 2009/10 academic year.


Three in 10 (30%) were persistent absentees from school, compared with less than one in 20 (4%) of all pupils in secondary schools run by local authorities, the figures showed.


Overall absence rates were also higher for those young people involved in the riots, up to 18.6% compared with 8.4% for all pupils in Year 11.


And their educational achievement was down, with just one in 10 of the youngsters involved achieving five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, compared with more than half (53%) of all pupils in 2009/10.


Some two-fifths of youngsters were in receipt of free school meals, compared with less than a fifth on average, and two-thirds had special educational needs, compared with the average of a fifth of all pupils, the figures showed.


Last month, Education Secretary Michael Gove admitted the riots had shown an "educational underclass".


"For all the advances we have made, and are making in education, we still every year allow thousands more children to join an educational underclass - they are the lost souls our school system has failed," he said.


"It is from that underclass that gangs draw their recruits, young offenders institutions find their inmates and prisons replenish their cells.


"These are young people who, whatever the material circumstances which surround them, grow up in the direst poverty - with a poverty of ambition, a poverty of discipline, a poverty of soul."


He went on: "If we are to tackle the scandal of our educational underclass we cannot shrink from radical action.


"We need, restlessly and relentlessly, to challenge, everywhere and always, the culture of low expectations that condemns so many young people to a lifetime incarcerated in a prison house of ignorance."


Most of those involved in the riots were aged under 20, with 26% aged 10 to 17 and 27% aged 18 to 20, the figures showed.


For the first time, the detailed figures also showed one in eight of all crimes committed during the disturbances were muggings.


A total of 664 individuals were targeted, with victims being robbed or injured, accounting for some 13% of the 5,326 crimes recorded.


And more than 2,500 shops and businesses were targeted by the looters and vandals, with more than 230 homes being targeted by burglars or vandals.


Of the adults involved, 100 were claiming disability living allowance, 60 were claiming incapacity benefit and some may have been claiming both, figures from the MoJ and the Department for Work and Pensions showed.


And 35% of the adults before the courts were claiming an out-of-work benefit at the time of the riots, compared with 12% of the general working population in England and 45% of all offenders sentenced for an indictable offence last year.


Three-quarters of all those who appeared in court had a previous conviction or caution.


But gang membership, which Iain Duncan Smith blamed earlier this month for playing a "significant part" in the riots, was not considered pivotal by most forces, officials said.


The Work and Pensions Secretary said the riots were a "wake-up call" which showed "containing" the underclass had failed.


"The scenes of young people ransacking local businesses, displaying stolen goods on the internet, spoke to a damaging culture on the rise in recent years," he told the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.


"Gang members were not the sole perpetrators of the riots but they played a significant part."


Just 13% of those arrested were reported to be affiliated to a gang and, even in London where gang membership among those arrested was highest at 19%, most of those held were not in gangs, Home Office figures showed.


But the definition of gangs varies between forces and there were some examples of gang members being involved in some of the more serious, life-threatening offences, including a firearms incident in the West Midlands.


In terms of ethnicity, 46% of those appearing in court were from black or mixed black backgrounds, 42% were white, 7% were Asian and 5% were classified as "other".


In Haringey, north London, Nottingham, and Birmingham - three key scenes of August's riots - the proportion of those brought before the courts over the riots who were white was significantly lower, and those from a black and mixed black background significantly higher, than the proportion in the resident population.


But in other areas, such as Salford, the ethnicity breakdown mostly reflected that of the resident population.


Policing and Criminal Justice Minister Nick Herbert said the figures confirmed existing criminals were "out in force" during the disturbances.


"The tough sentences that have rightly been handed down to rioters, and subsequently upheld on appeal, send out a strong deterrent message that society will not tolerate the appalling behaviour we saw on our streets," he said.


The figures also showed only half of the youngsters who appeared before the courts achieved the expected levels in maths and English by the time they left primary school, compared with the average of three-quarters of all pupils in 2005/06.


Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "While it may not surprise people to learn that young rioters were more likely than other children to be living in poverty, excluded from school and suffering from a learning disability or difficulty, it's time we did something to put things right.


"The worst possible outcome would be just to sling all these young people in prison and risk their joining gangs out of terror and becoming hardened criminals."


Diane Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, which was one of the areas worst affected by the riots, said: "The fact that David Cameron blames gangs, pure and simple, shows just how little the Government really knows about inner city areas. It is a series of much more complex issues that the Government needs to start engaging with."


She acknowledged gangs were a serious problem, but added: "It is clear that education is the key issue here.


"The Government needs to address why many of these youngsters feel as though they have no stake in society.


"For many people who were rioting, that week was a rejection of the future that was laid out for them."


Rhian Beynon, of Family Action which supports disadvantaged and socially isolated families, said the figures were a "devastating indictment of the way society has failed some of the poorest and most disadvantaged younger men".


"These shocking figures make clear that the poverty, disadvantage and disaffection experienced by this group are root causes of the August riots; and now their futures will be blighted by criminal sentences," she added.