Belfast Telegraph

Shock figures show 8,000 Northern Ireland teens have been arrested by police in the last four years

By Michael Sheils McNamee

More than 8,000 people aged under 18 were arrested in Northern Ireland in the last four years, shocking figures have revealed.

Common assault, criminal damage and disorderly behaviour were the top three reasons for young people being detained.

Threats to kill, assault on police and drug possession were also among the 10 most common offences, according to PSNI statistics obtained by this newspaper.

The details, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that from the start of 2014 until the end of 2017, 8,447 people aged under 18 were arrested in Northern Ireland.

Of that number, 586 were aged between 10 and 13.

Common assault accounted for 1,299 arrests.

The largest group was aged 16 and 17, which accounted for almost two-thirds of all young people arrested.

The figures come in the wake of a vicious attack on a 16-year-old girl in Bangor last weekend.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Ulster Unionist justice spokesperson Doug Beattie said "strenuous efforts" had been made to reduce the number of young people in the criminal justice system.

He said there was "a recognition that they can be set on a particular path at an early stage that they will find great difficulty coming back from".

Mr Beattie added: "That said, the criminal justice system is also about punishment and deterrence and we should not be so naïve as to think that young people - often very young - are not capable of knowing right from wrong." Mr Beattie added: "In an ideal world there would be nobody arrested of any age, because there would be no crime, but we do not live in an ideal world."

The figures break down the arrests into age brackets; from 10 to 13, from 14 to 15, and from 16 to 17.

Young people aged 16 to 17 were by far the largest group in terms of the number of arrests, accounting for 5,312 of the 8,447.

Further analysis of the figures shows a slight drop in arrests.

In 2014, 2,478 under-18s were arrested, with 2,167 in 2015, 1,894 in 2016, and 1,908 in 2017.

A PSNI spokesman said that it has a dedicated team which is focused on youth justice and preventing offending and risk-taking behaviour.

He said: "We continue to develop ways of keeping young people out of the justice system.

"Any incident that involves a young person under 18 years is highlighted and gets reviewed as to whether there is any requirement for consideration of referrals for support or early intervention where necessary - this is just one example of the many ways in which we focus on specifically addressing youth issues," he added.

"When someone under the age of 18 is arrested they are processed in the same way as an adult.

"However, while in custody, the process differs in that when in interview they will have an appropriate adult present, and if a young person is charged to appear at the next court sitting, all efforts will be made to ensure they are placed in a Juvenile Justice Centre overnight, rather than remaining in a cell in police custody."

Regarding reducing the number of arrests, the PSNI spokesman said that it worked with the PPS, the Youth Justice Agency - which provides custodial facilities for children and young people - and voluntary community groups to address the issue.

The spokesman added: "Arrest would only ever be used as an absolute last resort.

"This is a continuous process and we will continue to work collaboratively to ensure this number is kept to an absolute minimum.

He added that the PSNI would "encourage all parents and people who have responsibility for a child including the wider family to engage with us and help us support their children in what can sometimes be challenging circumstances".

Belfast Telegraph

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