Police try to avoid sending anti-social youths to prison because it increases the chances of them reoffending, an inquest into the deaths of a mother and her disabled daughter heard today.
Superintendent Steve Harrod, head of criminal justice at Leicestershire Police, was giving evidence at the hearing into the suicide of Fiona Pilkington, 38, who killed herself and and her disabled daughter two years ago. Ms Pilkington, 38, died after setting fire to her car while she and her daughter Francecca Hardwick, 18, were inside. An 11-year bullying campaign by local youths had made their lives intolerable. Months before, Ms Pilkington had written in her diary that she had given up trying to call the police for help, because they thought she was “overreacting”.
Earlier this week it emerged that Ms Pilkington had called police 33 times to complain about the abuse but none of the gang members, including the main problem family about whom police were informed, were prosecuted.
Mr Harrod was then asked by a juror: “If a youth above the age of criminal responsibility commits a crime, why is the criminalising of juveniles a consideration? If they commit a crime do they not bring the criminalisation upon themselves?”
He replied: “From a police point of view, what we want to do with any criminals is to prevent reoffending. From my personal experience, if a juvenile goes in to detention, they are likely to mix with like-minded people during their time there and they are more likely to reoffend. I think for new police officers this is all part of their training and for older officers there is a transition. But once you recognise that if you go to charge, and then the offenders come out of prison, you see them in the cells again and again.”
The badly burnt bodies of Ms Pilkington and her daughter, known as Frankie to her family, were discovered in October 2007 in the family’s blue Austin Maestro at the side of the A47 near their home. For more than a decade the family had been subjected to daily torment from local youths – some as young as 10 – who routinely shouted abuse and hurled objects at their house. At one point Ms Pilkington’s son Anthony, now 19, was threatened with an iron bar and locked in a shed at knifepoint. Earlier, the inquest was told social services were aware Ms Pilkington had been experiencing “suicidal thoughts”.
I blogged this case two years ago, and the reality turns out to be just as heartbreaking as I thought. Frances Crook and the Prison Reform Trust - and the BBC, of course - are doing a cracking job.
UPDATE - more from the spectacularly useless Steve Harrod :
At the inquest into the pair's deaths yesterday, Superintendent Steve Harrod, head of criminal justice at Leicestershire Police, acknowledged that the criminal justice system was set up to avoid sending juveniles to prison. He said police officers were only allowed to issue warnings to young troublemakers unless their behaviour was judged to be serious.
"I'm not sure if people know but low-level anti-social behaviour is mainly the responsibility of the council"
UPDATE - more torture in the community. If this had happened sixty years ago it would have been front page news. That's two rape/torture convictions in Greater London in the last three weeks that the BBC have failed to report. Is a pattern developing ?
The boys, two aged 17 and the other 16, approached the 14 year old victim and took her to a flat in Bromley on October 24 last year. While there the girl was raped and her hair was set on fire. An investigation was launched by Lewisham police and officers obtained mobile telephone footage of the suspects tormenting the victim with a cigarette lighter. Detective Constable Darren Sonnar said: “This was a particularly harrowing case".