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Ex-JP's dismay as boy is freed.

Byline: By Beverley Addy

A former magistrate has hit out at a system that has put a one-boy teenage crime wave back on the streets.

Fifteen-year-old James Brennan had his 12-month detention sentence quashed by an appeal judge last week and one of his convictions overturned.

But retired magistrate Clive Harron, 71, of South Tyneside, has criticised the decision and says his feelings have been echoed around the magistrates' court by police officers and others who believe that a custodial sentence is the only thing that have a chance of changing the boy's ways.

The teenager, of Norham Avenue South, Horsley Hill, has a string of 30 convictions. Earlier this month he was sentenced to a 12-month detention and training order by South Tyneside Youth Court.

But the five-foot tearaway, nicknamed The Munchkin, appealed against both conviction and sentence for offences of racial harassment and common assault and two breaches of an anti-social behaviour order.

Judge John Milford, sitting with two magistrates at Newcastle Crown Court last week, dismissed one of the charges carrying six months' custody.

And while they upheld the second conviction, they quashed the six months' detention given by magistrates and imposed an 18-month supervision order instead.

Mr Harron said: "I was a magistrate for 20 years. I was in court when this toe rag was sentenced to his first ever term of imprisonment. He started howling and his father and mother were shouting abuse at the magistrates. Magistrates are told that once all non-custodial sentences have been tried the only answer is custody.

"With this boy other things have been tried time and again. He is well known in the town.

"Everyone had applauded when he was sentenced at the magistrates' court."

Giving his reasons for freeing James Brennan, the judge described the boy's record as the worst he had ever seen for a 15-year-old. But he added that reports from Brennan's supervisers said he had made real progress since the offences last August.

He told Brennan: "We are conscious of the fact the longer we leave you in custody the more likely you will learn to cope with it and become inured to its effect."

But Mr Harron, who now helps with witness support at the South Tyneside Magistrates' Court, claimed: "This morning in the witness support room there were 12 police officers and they were all talking about it. All of them were disgusted and they said `what's the point'?"

Rural help call on crime

Farmers and other workers in Northumberland's remote communities have been told they have a key role in helping police keep the lid on rural crime.

Official crime statistics show that rural Northumberland is one of the safest places in Britain in which to live - but local people acting as eyes, ears and information sources for the police are essential if it is to stay that way.

Yesterday Northumbria Police Supt Peter Woods - one of the senior officers with the force's new command area covering the whole of Northumberland - told a rural crime conference he is keen to develop and exploit the unofficial partnership between the police and countryside dwellers.

He said advances in forensic technology were being used by the police to track down and arrest travelling criminals who visit Northumberland to burgle high-value homes and steal expensive machinery and other goods from farms and isolated properties.

In addition, the Northumbria force would continue to target known offenders and try to get more officers away from desks and out into the community in a bid to keep crime at a low level in rural areas.

However, Supt Woods said it was still important to preserve the tradition of farmers, their employees and others living and working in isolated villages and hamlets being vigilant to suspicious people and vehicles - and getting the information to police as quickly as possible.

He told the one-day conference on rural crime in Ponteland: "People who live and work in the countryside do have good contacts and a good network with their neighbours and see what is going on.

"It is all about getting that information to the police and setting up systems to enable that to happen."

The conference was organised by Castle Morpeth Borough Council in the wake of local surveys which show that crime and the fear of crime is still one of the most important issues for people in rural parts of Northumberland.

It gathered together representatives of Northumbria Police, the borough and parish councils and groups like Victim Support, Neighbourhood Watch and Positive Futures to examine what more can be done to tackle the problem.

Supt Woods said crime statistics show that Northumbria is one of the safest places to live in the UK and Northumberland has the lowest crime levels in the force area. He said crime levels had fallen steadily over the past 10 years and offences like burglary, robbery and car crime were lower in rural areas like Castle Morpeth than in similar rural areas around the country.

However, Felton farmer and NFU member Fred Ryle, 49, told the conference that farmers continued to suffer badly from thieves who steal high-value machinery, fuel and other goods - one recent incident involving two machines worth a total of pounds 85,000 - and from the activities of poachers.
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Title Annotation:News Local
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 23, 2004
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