Menacing youths spark call for police

Gangs of youths menacing a former pit village have sparked calls for the return of a permanent police presence.

The Rev Mike Dixon

Gangs of youths menacing a former pit village have sparked calls for the return of a permanent police presence.

People in Shilbottle, near Alnwick, say they are fed up with the gangs causing disorder and criminal damage.

In one incident, mourners attending a funeral at St James's Church were harassed. There have also been repeated attacks on the church's stained glass windows and an attempt to light a fire in the chapel's porch.

Local playing fields have become under-age drinking hotspots, and elderly residents say they are too intimidated to use their local shop on Grange Road after dark because of rowdy youngsters congregating outside.

Shilbottle - population 1,800 - was stripped of its local "live-in" village bobby almost a decade ago, and the former police house at North Side is now privately owned.

It has since had to rely on a community policing team which also covers a number of other villages in the area, backed up by mobile patrols from Alnwick.

But village leaders and householders say they now want a police officer permanently based in the community.

"We're not getting what we used to have," said district councillor Elisabeth Haddow, who also runs Shilbottle Post Office with husband Arthur.

"When we have had a resident police presence there have been vast improvements to the quality of life in this village.

"We know the police don't have the resources, but it's no use in action coming after the event - we need someone who can prevent it in the first place."

The Rev Mike Dixon, of St James's Church, where the incident happened on Wednesday last week, added: "The police are dealing with the church issues, and meetings are being arranged with parents."

Edith Hood, who is assistant manageress of the village co-operative shop, said: "Older people won't come to the shop after dark because of the youths outside, some of who are 16 and 17 years old.

"The police tell them to move on, but they're back a few days later."

Northumbria Police says it is tackling the problem, with 15 youths in the process of being dealt with by its anti-social behaviour unit.

Community Inspector Heather Richardson said: "We are aware of increased disorder in Shilbottle, and we are making a number of inquiries.

"Youths have been identified as being involved in various incidents in and around the village and action is being taken."

Page 2: Cameron urges 'tough love' move on young offenders

Cameron urges 'tough love' move on young offenders

Tory leader David Cameron yesterday set out a "tough love" approach to young criminals, combining new prisons with extra understanding of their motives.

He accused Tony Blair of giving up on his famous "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" mantra and relying on centrally-imposed solutions.

He also called for extra counselling, education and training in young offenders' institutions in a bid to stop youths returning to crime on release.

As a result, he faced taunts from Labour that he was using "fluffy bunny language" and had completely misunderstood the issue.

"We have to show a lot more love," he told the Youth Justice Board's (YJB) annual convention in Cardiff.

"By that I don't mean sentimental, childish love which sees no wrong in anyone. I mean tough love - love that values people, and therefore demands high standards from them."

His appeal for a fresh approach came as new research for a leading think tank suggested Britain's youths were among the worst behaved in Europe. The UK came at or near the top of a series of indicators of bad behaviour, including drugs, drink, violence and promiscuity.

Meanwhile, another report showed that nearly half of under-18s have breached anti-social behaviour orders, and that many consider them a "badge of honour".

Home Office Minister Tony McNulty defended the use of Asbos, insisting that they were used sparingly and only in the worst circumstances and were not "raining down like confetti".

Page 3: 'Cowardly' robbers raid care home

'Cowardly' robbers raid care home

Detectives were last night hunting two "cowardly and despicable" robbers who terrorised vulnerable people in a care home during a knifepoint raid.

The raiders forced their way into a house for people with learning difficulties in Taylor Street, Consett, early yesterday and threatened three of the men who live there, as well as their woman carer, before making their getaway with hundreds of pounds worth of cash used for their day-to-day expenses.

Rachel Shimmin, Durham County Council's director of Adult and Community Services, said last night: "Decent people will share my revulsion at this violence and aggression against vulnerable people in their own home.

"I strongly urge any member of the public who is able in any way to help bring the culprits to justice to come forward and assist the police with their inquiries so that residents of the home and other members of the community do not have to risk this sort of incident again."

Shortly before 6.30am yesterday the robbers broke in through the back of the council-owned terraced house. The robbers, one of whom carried a small knife, first ran into one of the residents downstairs.

They threatened him with the knife but when he protested that he had no money they made their way upstairs, where they forced open a locked door leading to the room where staff sleep overnight.

They burst in and confronted a woman carer in her early 40s, threatening her with violence before she handed over cash said by police to be "a few hundred pounds". The robbers then escaped with the cash and personal items they found in the house.

Police are trying to establish which way they left the building.

Detective Constable Ian Waslin, of Consett CID, said: "This must have been a very frightening ordeal for the victim, who was just getting up when the door to her room was forced open.

"At this stage we don't know if the intruders targeted the house because they thought the residents were vulnerable, or if this was simply an opportunist crime."

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