Parents must lay down law to kids
There are two ways of looking at the shock report in this newspaper today that police have investigated 250 crimes in the past three years where the suspects were children aged between five and nine. Some people might argue that these statistics highlight a worrying lack of parental control over children who are still at primary school.
Others may take the view that this is hardly the best use of officers' time given the lack of resources faced by the PSNI. The Chief Constable has repeatedly warned that the force has not the manpower or money required to investigate crimes from the Troubles era and that it even struggles with its crime-prevention strategies.
While it is undeniable that even young children can be drawn into serious criminal activity - everyone can recall the murder of little James Bulger on Merseyside by two 10-year-old boys in 1993 - such horror can only make up an infinitesimal fraction of crime figures.
And it should be remembered that anyone under the age of 10 in Northern Ireland cannot be prosecuted because they are deemed to be under the age of criminal responsibility.
So, were investigations by the PSNI into these 250 crimes merely fishing expeditions to find out if other, legally culpable youngsters were involved?
The idea of a child being questioned - albeit in the company of parents or guardians - by police officers conjures up an almost risible image, although it has to be admitted that the victims of the crimes would want the cases solved even if no one ends up in the dock.
There is also the problem of what attitude social services would take if it was discovered that a child was suspected of being involved in crime. Could this lead to the break-up of families or would it flag up the need for greater support for the families involved?
While there must be reservations about children being questioned by police, that does not absolve parents from their responsibilities. Children of these tender years should be under the supervision of parents or other responsible adults for most, if not all, of the day. It is not asking too much for parents to be aware of the company their children keep and to ensure that they are taught proper values.
It is best to lay down the ground rules of behaviour in the home, rather than one day finding a police officer knocking at the door seeking evidence of criminal activity.