September 2, 2007 / 1:44 PM / 12 years ago

Children under 10 suspected of 3,000 crimes

LONDON (Reuters) - Thousands of crimes went unpunished in England and Wales last year because the suspects were too young to be prosecuted, it was reported on Sunday.

Children under 10 were suspected of having carried out 2,840 crimes, about half of which were cases of arson or criminal damage.

But there were also 66 sex offences, some against children under 13, for which they were the main suspects.

They were also thought to be responsible for harassment, wounding and burglary.

The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 and over.

It has intensified the debate as to whether the criminal age should be raised or not.

The figures, based on data from 32 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, were obtained by BBC Radio Five Live under the Freedom of Information Act.

As a proportion of total crime, the numbers are small, the BBC said.

Home Office figures show there were 5.5 million incidents reported to the police during the same period.

Although children aged nine or under cannot be charged, the crime is recorded by police, and a suspect can be made the subject of a child safety order and placed under supervision.

A spokesman for Nacro, the crime reduction charity, said the age of criminal responsibility was too low.

“It is unusually low by European standards,” he told BBC television.

“In France the age is 13 and Germany 14 and ranges in most European countries between 14 and 16.”

But Lawrence Lee, who was a solicitor for one of two 10-year-olds who killed two-year-old James Bulger in 1993, said as a citizen, rather than a lawyer, he believed that lowering the age of criminal responsibility would send an important message to child offenders, the BBC reported.

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