Children victims of surge in muggings
More than 500 10-to-15 year-olds attacked every day, but are too scared to tell police
MORE than 500 children a day are victims of thefts and muggings, but the crimes are not being reported to police amid fears of reprisals, figures suggest.
The number of children whose phones have been stolen has risen for the first time since 2010, with increasingly valuable smartphones and police cuts being blamed.
However, only one in eight children aged 10-15 reported the theft to police, the Office for National Statistics said.
Criminologists attributed the reluctance to fears of revenge attacks and a belief that police were too stretched to investigate so many “low-level” crimes.
They blamed the thefts on the surge in popularity of smartphones and on the pressures of policing, with 21,000 officer posts cut since 2010.
Only 7 per cent of robberies result in a suspect being charged compared with 21 per cent four years ago.
“Smartphones can be worth up to £800 but nine times out of 10, children won’t report a theft so it is easy pickings for gangs,” said Prof Simon Harding, the director of the national centre for gang research at the University of West London. “If the thieves are not in the playground, they are outside the school when you leave or in the park. There’s no getting away from it. The threats are more serious than when we were at school and come at you 24/7.”
Schools have launched patrols or chaperones to take pupils home or banned smartphones and permitted only cheaper “brick” phones to reduce the risk of robberies at the school gate.
Enfield Grammar School in north London introduced patrols after a spike in muggings, with 200 parent volunteers armed with walkie talkies and hivis jackets taking to the streets.
“It seems to be an accepted part of being a teenager now,” said Christopher Lamb, the head teacher. “The crime rate has gone through the roof. I’ve watched two boys mugging four boys, and a patrol got there and said, ‘Are you all right boys?’, and the perpetrators ran off.”
Between 0.9 and 1.6 per cent of those aged 10 to 21 said they were victims of mobile phone thefts, equivalent to nearly 100,000 children, according to the ONS crime survey.
The proportion of 10 to 15-year-olds who suffered a theft in the past year rose to 4.6 per cent, equivalent to 193,200 or 530 a day. Those who said they had been subjected to violence jumped to more than one in 20.
Victim Support reported a 33 per cent rise in 13 to 19-year-olds seeking specialist help because of the distress from phone thefts, with cases up from 1,962 in 2016-17 to 2,614 this year.
Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on children and young people, said she was concerned that children “very rarely” reported thefts. She acknowl- edged it was partly because “they don’t think the police will be interested which is absolutely not true”.
The Home Office said it was “recruiting 20,000 new police officers and putting serious criminals behind bars for longer”. It added: “We have invested £25million into a Safer Streets Fund, which will help tackle burglary, theft and other offences in crime hot spots.”
CHRISTOPHER LAMB realised that street robberies around his school had reached a worrying peak when nine of his pupils were victims in the same evening.
It was November 2018, and the 46-year-old had seen a sharp rise in muggings over his two years as the head teacher of Enfield Grammar School, a boys’ academy in north London.
Every week, it seemed, another boy was forced to hand over his smartphone – sometimes at knifepoint – to street muggers who were becoming increasingly brazen.
Some boys were targeted in the local Mcdonald’s fast-food chain and told they would be stabbed unless they followed their attacker to a quiet part of town to hand over their valuables.
Others were walked to a cashpoint and ordered to withdraw money. Younger pupils who fell prey to the
“befriending approach” were asked for the time and then robbed when they got their phone out to check.
Realising that drastic action was required, Mr Lamb arranged an emergency meeting and helped to set up a “community patrol”. As a result, an army of 200 parent volunteers has spent the past 10 months making twicedaily expeditions around Enfield, armed with walkie talkies and high-vis jackets. They have already interrupted several attacks.
The project is one of many responses from head teachers to street robberies, which have risen to their highest rate in more than a decade, according to exclusive Telegraph data, with some 269,000 young people involved in or at risk of violence last year.
Mr Lamb, who has two school-age children of his own, said: “The crime rate has gone through the roof. I’ve seen first-hand that our patrols prevent muggings. I’ve watched two boys mugging four boys, and a patrol got there and said, ‘Are you all right boys?’, and the perpetrators ran off.”
Mr Lamb has even banned smartphones from the school and told parents to bring “brick-type phones” instead, which are less appealing to muggers. One parent who followed this advice was Tina Coletta, who told her 16-year-old son to carry an old-fashioned handset with a broken screen after he was mugged twice within a weeks last year.
He was targeted a third time in March near his house in Winchmore Hill, north London, but the muggers left empty-handed after turning their noses up at his less-than-fashionable phone. “They always say they have a knife and I think 99 per cent of the time they don’t actually have a knife, but you tell your kids not to take the chance,” says Ms Coletta, who also volunteers for the community patrol.
When Sophia Stoffel’s 13-year-old son was mugged in south London just before half-term, it came as a surprise. Mrs Stoffel had heard friends and neighbours warn about what some call the Mugging Hour – the hour of 4-5pm when most attacks occur as children make their way home from school.
But the irony, says Mrs Stoffel, 45, who has two other sons aged eight and 11, is that she had just moved her son to a new private London day school from the local high-achieving academy exactly because of concerns she had around his safety. But on his way home, her son was approached by three boys aged about 15-17 wearing hoodies.
“My son is tall, and they asked his age first,” she says, “then they wanted money. He said they started friendly and then became quite insistent and aggressive, saying ‘Don’t lie to me’. My son handed over £20 I had given him to buy a textbook.”
Horrifyingly, this type of youth on youth crime is becoming so normal in London that in the suburb of Wandsworth, for example, families were warning each other last October that in one week 20 children from the same class had been mugged. The problem has ballooned to such an extent that parents have started arranging for taxis to collect their children.
Helen Burrows, head teacher of Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School in Acocks Green, Birmingham, says she would “ban mobile phones entirely” if she could. Several of her pupils have been threatened on their way home by children from nearby schools, and at one point last year a pupil was approached on a bus by a person who tried to recruit them into a county lines gang. The school also erects a knife arch four or five times a year, selecting classes at random and screening pupils for weapons.
“Violence across our communities has almost become quite normalised, and that frightens me as a head teacher,” she says.
Sir Daniel Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation, a multi-academy trust that runs 48 schools around London, says teachers in major cities are increasingly taking on bouncer-like responsibilities. “If you’re a senior leader in a school ... it doesn’t end when the kids go out the door,” said Sir Daniel, whose schools station “highly visible” teachers on the gates each afternoon to scare off potential assailants. Teachers routinely escort pupils to their bus stop or train station, and sometimes even ride on the buses with the children to ensure their safety. Pupils at particular risk are invited to after-hours clubs, such as boxing, basketball, and life-coaching sessions, to help stagger their departure from the school gates.
A flower shop near one of his schools has agreed to be a “Safe Place”, which is part of a national scheme encouraging shops, cafés, and even opticians to post stickers in their window indicating that they are a refuge for schoolchildren. Sir Daniel added: “Among many causal factors has been the lack of police presence and stop-andsearch in some areas.” The under-reporting of street robbery is a concern among teachers, with fewer than one in eight children aged 10 to 15 reporting thefts to the police, according Telegraph figures. to
Christopher Lamb realised drastic action was required. Right, Tina Coletta volunteers for a community patrol