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Spalding-based solicitor: 'A police cell is no place for a child'

A leading solicitor believes that "a police cell is no place for a child" as new figures reveal a 63 per cent fall in the number of under-18s arrested in Lincolnshire.

Anita Toal, managing partner at Maples Solicitors, in Spalding, welcomed research by the Howard League for Penal Reform, which showed that police in the county arrested 696 children aged 17 and younger in 2019.

This compared to 1,911 arrests in 2011, a year after the national charity "working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison" launched a campaign to stop the criminalisation of children.

Chief Superintendent Chris Davison, area commander for local policing in South Holland. Photo: SG-210619-128TW
Chief Superintendent Chris Davison, area commander for local policing in South Holland. Photo: SG-210619-128TW

Responses to a Freedom of Information request from the Howard League to all 43 police forces in England and Wales, as well as British Transport Police, found that child arrests had fallen by 71 per cent in the two countries between 2010 and 2019.

During this period, the number of under-18s arrested nationally went down from 245,763 to 71,885.

Mrs Toal said: "This news is only to be welcomed.

"Children should be kept out of the criminal justice system whenever constructive alternatives exist.

"The arrest of a child results in that child being held in a custody suite at a police station alongside adults.

"A police cell is no place for a child.

"In my 31 years in the law I have found that the vast majority of children who find themselves on the wrong side of the law have experienced difficulties in their own background.

"Many of them are in the care of the local authority and criminalising children merely increases the chances of them growing into offenders in their adult life."

Chief Superintendent Chris Davison, area commander for local policing in South Holland, said: "We work closely with Lincolnshire County Council’s Youth Offending Service and have become more effective at early intervention.

"This means we are able to take routes that address the behaviour, without criminalising the child.

"We help children understand the seriousness of their actions and the potential consequences.

"We have an opportunity to engage young minds and help them onto a different path, rather than see them grow up to become prolific offenders as adults.

"We understand that an arrest for a criminal matter is a serious step to take and our consideration of proportionality and necessity is rightly questioned and tested, especially when that suspect is a young person.

"Therefore, we consider safeguarding referrals for young people where appropriate but often there is a bigger picture and it is help from the right agency that the child needs, rather than criminalisation."

Jo Kavanagh, the county council's assistant director for children's services, said: "We work closely with our partners to identify and support those children and families that need extra help.

"By intervening at the earliest possible stage, we can prevent issues from escalating and this makes it less likely for the child to enter the criminal justice system.

"These figures underline that this partnership approach is making a real difference."

Sarah Caskie-Hefferman, housing operations manager for national social justice charity Nacro, said: "We are pleased that child arrests are falling in Lincolnshire.

"Part of this is due to many organisations, including the county council's children’s services department and Nacro, working together to recognise vulnerable children, intervene before any exploitation takes place and help prevent children coming into contact with the criminal justice system.

“Our work at Nacro shows that this is the best way to allow children to flourish, rather than be condemned to an uncertain future, and we think it should be adopted across the country.”

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