Chil­dren vic­tims of surge in mug­gings

More than 500 10-to-15 year-olds at­tacked ev­ery day, but are too scared to tell po­lice

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Charles Hy­mas Home Af­fairs ed­i­tor

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

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