Children to be barred from the West End after dark

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Children Under the age of 16 are to be placed under curfew and banned from visiting London's West End after 9pm, it was announced yesterday.

Children under the age of 16 are to be placed under curfew and banned from visiting London's West End after 9pm, it was announced yesterday.

A series of "no-go zones" have been identified by the Metropolitan Police in some of the capital's most popular tourist spots. Children under the age of 16 who are not accompanied by adults in these zones after 9pm could bepicked up and taken home by police officers.

The Metropolitan Police were able to designate the "dispersal areas" because ofnew powers granted to them in the Government's anti-social behaviour legislation.

The initiative will cover sites such as Trafalgar Square and Regent Street, as well as 15 other London areas. It aims to curb "trouble-making" by youngsters after dark, with a specific focus on vulnerable lone children and gangs on the rampage.

Announcing the plans, Sir Ian Blair, the Deputy Commissioner at the Met, said: "I don't think any responsible parent would like their 15-year old unaccompanied in the West End after 9pm." The West End attracts thousands of youngsters every week from across the capital, with its late-night cinemas, games arcades and burger chains. However, the bright lights of the capital's tourist hotspots also frequently attract gangs of thugs as well as frequent underage drinking.

The measures were described by Sir Ian as "extremely appropriate" in tackling the crimes caused by youngsters in the heart of London.

Referring to the new powers of intervention of the police, he said: "They are not going to just stop anybody but they will be looking for gangs of youths causing difficulty or children who are looking vulnerable.

"Nobody is saying to young people not to go to the West End, but we are saying that after 9pm, we expect you to be leaving.

"It's partly about vulnerable children and gangs coming down and causing trouble. We have never had before a power to say you can't stay here, you have to go home."

The curfew has been introduced on an experimental basis in the designated areas. The creation of the central London dispersal areas follows a scheme launched in Somers Town, Camden, last month which aims to tackle crime related to gangs of youths and drug addicts.

Describing the Camden scheme, Sir Ian said: "One chap told me he had been living there 50 years and had never been able to sleep until now. One of the things the residents said was that the dispersal order meant young children now felt they could go out and play."

However, children's charities voiced concerns and warned police against alienating children from parts of the capital such as the West End.

"We do need to know how this works in practice," said Christine Atkinson, policy advisor at the NSPCC. "We don't want to see the West End turned into a no-go area for young people. However, we would support any initiative that helps vulnerable young people in London."