Holiday therapy for burglary boy 'not a soft option'

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THE HEAD of a charitable trust responsible for taking a 14-year-old tearaway on a 'therapeutic' break to a holiday village and then to a luxury farmhouse after he went on a burgling spree yesterday defended his staff's handling of the case.

Chris Tasker, chief executive of the Hartsdene Trust in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, broke his silence as more details of the boy's antics emerged. After burgling nine chalets at Center Parcs in Elveden, Suffolk, the boy was taken to a farmhouse and then on to a hotel in Cliftonville, Kent, where he caused further disruption.

Mr Tasker, who has 25 years' experience in social work and youth work, defended the trips.

'We need to engage with these children and establish a one-to-one relationship in which we can establish some influence over them. We are very unhappy about what happened at Center Parcs but you cannot predict what someone is going to do. Later we needed to go somewhere to stabilise the child.'

Mr Tasker denied that the trust's approach was soft. He said: 'We are anything but a soft option. We are asking people to face up to painful and difficult problems and take responsibility for their actions towards themselves and other people.' He also denied his staff posed as the boy's parents and said the trust had not misled anyone.

'We contacted Center Parcs and told them exactly who we were. They have now written and accepted that we never tried to be underhand.'

Reflecting on recent events he said: 'It wasn't a total success but it wasn't a total failure. The boy in question actually achieved a long period of stable behaviour after the incidents at Center Parcs'.

He said no action would be taken against the staff involved.

Mr Tasker defended the trust's approach to looking after young offenders and said that they would continue to do the same sort of thing in the future: 'It has worked, it does work and it will work,' he said.

The boy admitted burglary at the Center Parcs camp after he was arrested in March and he was given a one-year supervision order by the youth panel at Bury St Edmunds in June. An inquiry is being conducted by Essex County Council, whose social services sent the boy to Hartsdene.