United Kingdom

Record number of under-10s are found with guns and knives

A record number of children under ten have been found armed with guns and knives amid fears they are being exploited by county lines gangs.

Police figures show a steep increase in the number of children who were investigated for having weapons – but were below the age of criminal responsibility.

The numbers will fuel fears that criminal gangs aware of the legal loophole are increasingly using young children to look after their weapons.

Last year saw 160 cases where police forces in England and Wales dropped a criminal weapons case because the suspect was too young to be charged.

The tally for 2019/20 was more than six times the figure of 26 seen just five years earlier.

A record number of children under ten have been found armed with guns, knives, axes and machetes (pictured posed by model)

Four cases – in Kent, Cleveland, Lincolnshire and West Yorkshire – related to firearms while the rest involved bladed items such as knives, axes and machetes. 

Last year there were 7,358 criminal cases of all types logged by police where no prosecution was brought because the suspect was too young. It was double the figure of 3,641 recorded five years earlier.

Also among last year’s crimes involving under-tens were 59 racial assaults.

Additionally, there were 75 attacks on police, compared with five in 2014/15, and six cases where the child was caught in possession of illegal drugs. 

The force writing off the largest number of weapons crimes involving under-tens last year was West Yorkshire with 21, followed by Hampshire (15) and Cleveland and Devon and Cornwall (both nine).

Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo’s, says the charity knows of children as young as nine being exploited

The largest force, the Metropolitan Police, had four cases, the West Midlands had six and Greater Manchester recorded seven, figures obtained by the Daily Mail show.

County lines drug gangs are known to exploit youngsters to sell hard drugs. Last year it emerged that the criminals were targeting children at free wifi spots.

The internet areas, popular with youngsters who have used up all their pay-as-you-go phone credit, are ideal places for gangsters to meet and groom vulnerable children, the Howard League for Penal Reform said in a report.

Criminals also try to recruit young people at more traditional locations such as parks and bus stops, it added. Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo’s, said: ‘We know of children as young as nine who have been criminally exploited.

‘They could be carrying weapons out of fear for their own safety or just not understand the implications of their actions. These children must be safeguarded first and foremost and protected from further harm.’

He added: ‘Children are not born with knives in their hands. But at a young age they can be highly vulnerable to exploitation and coerced into committing crimes such as carrying weapons or drugs.

Last year it was reported criminals were targeting and grooming children at free wifi spots (picture posed by model)

‘These children can also have been threatened and blackmailed, subjected to physical, emotional or sexual abuse and are at risk of serious violence. Far too often these children go unidentified and unsupported.’

Anastasia de Waal, director of the I Can Be children’s charity, said: ‘At the heart of these figures lies the troubling reality that very young children are being exploited by criminal networks.’ 

She added: ‘What are often very vulnerable children are not just having their childhoods blighted by this exploitation, their futures are also too often affected by their early involvement in crime.’

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