One in four children victim of crime

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The Independent Online

Almost one in four children aged 10 to 15 has been a victim of crime in the past year, it was revealed today.

A total of 2,153,000 crimes of theft and violence took place against under 16s in 2009, the Home Office said.

A pilot extension of the British Crime Survey to include younger people found 24 per cent were victims of crime.

The snapshot findings unveil the potential extent of crime against young people for the first time.

A report found children are more at risk of personal crimes, such as robbery, assault and theft, than adults.

But they are far less likely to report their experiences, with just over one in 10 (11 per cent) going to police, compared with 37 per cent of adults.

Researchers said if all the crimes were added to annual figures, the total level of crime in England and Wales would soar by more than a fifth (22 per cent).

But they warned the figures may overstate the level of crime among young people because many incidents may not be classified as crimes by ordinary people.

For example, the research included many incidents at school and in the home, such playground fights and theft of toys, which some may not consider to be a legal matter.

The study highlighted how the number dropped drastically if incidents at school were excluded, meaning victims "perceived" only 404,000 crimes in the same period.

The scope of the British Crime Survey (BCS) was widened last year after criticism it gave an incomplete picture.

Ministers in the previous administration were particularly concerned crime figures did not focus on violence suffered by children.

Researchers visiting households around England and Wales interviewed 3,700 children about their experiences of crime.

They recorded information about thefts, violence and damage to personal property but excluded sexual offences.

Many crimes suffered by adults, such as burglary, vehicle crime and fraud, were not included as they do not apply.

John Flatley, who wrote the report, said a decision must now be made over what should be done with the figures.

He said: "This research fills an important gap in the evidence base that we did not have before.

"It quantifies what we suspected, but we did not have the numbers to show it.

"We expected that children would have higher levels of victimisation than adults and that most of it would be dominated by low level violence and that the serious stuff is relatively rare."

A 12-week consultation will now take place to decide how child crime figures should be collected and presented.

Researchers said there are 3,909,680 children aged between 10 and 15 in England and Wales.

Police Minister Nick Herbert said: "These new figures reinforce our longstanding belief that, to date, crime measures have offered either a partial or confused picture about the level of offending.

"However you look at these statistics, they reveal what people know only too well - that crime affecting young people is a serious problem which must be tackled.

"We need a commonsense approach that recognises young people's experiences so that we don't criminalise children by failing to properly distinguish between playground spats and serious crime.

"The public must have full and trusted information if we are to restore confidence in the statistics and drive effective action to tackle crime.

"We are currently considering how crime statistics should be collected and published in future, and will work with the UK Statistics Authority to consider this carefully."