Why we avoid charging youths, by inquest police

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The Independent Online

Police try to avoid sending anti-social youths to prison because it increases the chances of them reoffending, an inquest into the deaths of a mother and her disabled daughter heard today.

Superintendent Steve Harrod, head of criminal justice at Leicestershire Police, was giving evidence at the hearing into the suicide of Fiona Pilkington, 38, who killed herself and and her disabled daughter two years ago. Ms Pilkington, 38, died after setting fire to her car while she and her daughter Francecca Hardwick, 18, were inside. An 11-year bullying campaign by local youths had made their lives intolerable. Months before, Ms Pilkington had written in her diary that she had given up trying to call the police for help, because they thought she was “overreacting”.

Answering questions from the jury in Loughborough Town Hall, Mr Harrod admitted that officers often get frustrated at not being able to deal with problematic youths. “It’s extremely difficult because while evidence against a gang member may be stronger than another, and we can issue a reprimand, then the next offence in that gang may be against another member, so the reprimands start again,” he said.

Earlier this week it emerged that Ms Pilkington had called police 33 times to complain about the abuse but none of the gang members, including the main problem family about whom police were informed, were prosecuted.

Mr Harrod was then asked by a juror: “If a youth above the age of criminal responsibility commits a crime, why is the criminalising of juveniles a consideration? If they commit a crime do they not bring the criminalisation upon themselves?”

He replied: “From a police point of view, what we want to do with any criminals is to prevent reoffending. From my personal experience, if a juvenile goes in to detention, they are likely to mix with like-minded people during their time there and they are more likely to reoffend. I think for new police officers this is all part of their training and for older officers there is a transition. But once you recognise that if you go to charge, and then the offenders come out of prison, you see them in the cells again and again.”

The badly burnt bodies of Ms Pilkington and her daughter, known as Frankie to her family, were discovered in October 2007 in the family’s blue Austin Maestro at the side of the A47 near their home. For more than a decade the family had been subjected to daily torment from local youths – some as young as 10 – who routinely shouted abuse and hurled objects at their house. At one point Ms Pilkington’s son Anthony, now 19, was threatened with an iron bar and locked in a shed at knifepoint. Earlier, the inquest was told social services were aware Ms Pilkington had been experiencing “suicidal thoughts”.

Tony Howlett, service manager for people with learning disabilities at Leicestershire County Council, said: “It was seen as more of a general expression of her anxieties at the bullying and harassment, and not any sort of intention to commit suicide.” He was asked by the coroner, Olivia Davison, if extra support or reassurance was offered to Ms Pilkington in a time of stress as during the worrying time of her daughter moved from secondary school to another placement.

She said: "Did anybody think of Fiona in terms of extra counselling and support?" Mr Howlett replied: “No.” He was then asked by the coroner Olivia Davison if any extra support or reassurance was offered to Ms Pilkington during the worrying time of her daughter's move from secondary school to another placement.

She said: "Did anybody think of Fiona in terms of extra counselling and support?" To this Mr Howlett replied: "No."

The hearing continues.