50,000 children locked up by police

More than 50,000 children under the age of 16 were held in police cells in 2008 and 2009 it has emerged.

Figures obtained by the Howard League for Penal Reform show that 13,000 of the children in the two-year period were aged between nine and 13.

It is believed the true figures could be far higher as half of the police forces contacted, including the Metropolitan Police, did not respond. Nine of the children detained were below the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales, 10 years old.

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said she was horrified by how prevalent the practice is.

“Thousands of children are detained for at least one night in police cells ever year, and this is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “We may actually be talking hundreds of thousands of children detained overnight each year.

“Most children detained are not serious offenders. It appears children are being held in police cells for child protection reasons — for example, when a child is found in the street drunk.

“This could be an increasing response to children in need as local authorities face cuts to children’s services. We’re dealing with children who are in need. However, keeping children overnight in a busy, chaotic police station does not protect them.”

Anita Dockley, research director for the Howard League, said police admitted to the campaigning charity that requests by them for local authority accommodation are often not met.

“This is contrary to international law, which states that no child should be deprived of his or her liberty unless it is a measure of last resort.”