A thief at 12, dead at 16: the short life and crimes of Fred Barras

The night Fred Barras died older friends had taken him to Tony Martin's place to "keep him out of trouble". It is indicative of the world the teenager grew up in that the older men would keep him out of harm's way by taking him to a burglary.

The picture of Fred Barras, which his mother cherished and newspapers carried last week, appeared to show the pleasant face of the "lovable rogue" his family described.

But the photograph was a police mug shot taken two days before his death when he was arrested for theft. His smile in the picture appears almost unrepentant. Barras still had the bail form in his pocket when he set off with Brendon Fearon and Darren Bark to Tony Martin's farm.

The boy had also started to dabble with drugs. Forensic scientists found traces of cannabis and amphetamines in his blood.

Barras was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, in November 1982, the youngest of six children and the only boy. His mother moved to Newark, Nottinghamshire and his father Fred - a scrap metal dealer - disappeared when he was six months old.

The Barras clan, described as a family of travellers, remain settled in the town's deprived post-war Hawtonville housing estate, where cars sit on the street, stripped of wheels and windows. Barras attended Oliver Quibell Infants and Hawtonville Junior then was thrown out of Sconce Hills High School.

"He first got into trouble at 12 for stealing some bits from a shop and after that he seemed to be in and out of trouble all the time," said his mother, Ellen, 45. "He wasn't a gangster. He was only a petty thief."

But he was remembered as a smiling lad by friends and the strength of feeling about his death in the community was reflected in the 450 mourners who attended his funeral. At 16, Barras had racked up 29 offences, been in court five times and had a spell inside a youth offenders' institution.

His crimes included common assault, handling stolen goods, assaulting a constable, theft, dangerous driving and burglary.

For a time he worked on his uncle's market stall but it failed to keep him out of trouble. His best friend, said his mother, was Brendon Fearon, who had appeared in court 33 times. He later admitted he felt guilty for taking "that little lad there to be killed".

In the words of the Reverend Richard Harlow-Trigg at his funeral: "Everybody here knows that Fred should not have been where he was. Equally everybody know that he did not deserve to die like he did." The boy died in pain, crying for his mother.

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