Call to ban detention of under-14s
Police should be banned from holding children under 14 overnight in cells, campaigners have said.
Some 11,500 children under 14 are held in police cells overnight each year in a "dangerous and frightening practice that does more harm than good", the Howard League for Penal Reform said.
It also called for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised from 10 to 14.
A total of 52,847 children under 16 were detained overnight in 2008 and 2009, including 11,540 who were under 14, figures released to the campaigners under the Freedom of Information Act showed.
But the figures were based on replies from just 24 of the 43 forces in England and Wales, and did not include Britain's largest force, the Metropolitan Police, suggesting the actual number of children detained overnight could be much higher.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, said: "I was horrified to discover how prevalent the practice of holding young children in police cells for one or even several nights was across the country. What children need is somewhere safe, not somewhere secure.
"From conversations we have had with the police it seems that some children are being held in police cells for child protection reasons, for example when a child is found out alone at night.
"The Howard League is warning that this will increase as local authorities face cuts to children's services. If parents can't be relied upon to provide a safe place for these children, it is up to the local authority.
"A police cell is not an appropriate place for children, and this commonplace, dangerous and frightening practice does more harm than good."