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Hamilton police answer critics

Myths about the child safety initiative in Hamilton, which the police say were largely created by the media, formed one of the focuses for pupil debate at a Young Citizens and the Law conference in Edinburgh last week.

Sergeant Ian McKim, of Strathclyde Police, said that the much publicised initiative, intended to keep children off the streets of several estates in Hamilton during the later evening, did not involve a curfew, rigid time and age limits, or the arbitrary apprehending of innocent bystanders.

The initiative was about child safety, Mr McKim said. "Our number one responsibility is to protect lives."

Inspector John McKenzie, told the initially sceptical audience drawn from Edinburgh secondary schools: "We have found kids as young as five years old out in the freezing cold at 11 o'clock at night. It's kids like that that we took home to their parents."

Many young people had been spoken to in the streets of Hamilton by the police as part of the initiative. "The idea is for us to have a dialogue with people of your age," Mr McKenzie said.

"Only" 224 youngsters had been returned by the police to their parents since the initiative began last October, and only four, who had allegedly broken the law, had been taken to the police station.

But young people should not be seen drinking alcohol on the streets, an occupation a number of delegates admitted to. "You would be the people we would consider as vulnerable," Mr McKim said.

Were delegates convinced the Hamilton way was the answer to child safety? One group gave it its wholehearted support by the end of its workshop. Another was less positive. The public relations battle is not yet over.

Marilyne MacLaren, Edinburgh Liberal Democrat council spokesman on education and policing and chairman of Partnership against Crime, the umbrella group of the Lothian and Borders Police's community crime prevention panels, said the aim was "to get youngsters to think more philosophically about laws - what they are, what their function is - and what would happen if we didn't have them. We also want to knock down preconceptions and to humanise criminal and justice procedures."

A Young Citizens and the Law teaching pack developed by Edinburgh education department and sponsored by the Scottish Office and Standard Life, was launched at the conference.

Including teaching notes, fact sheets and activities for secondary 1 to secondary 3 pupils in personal and social education classes, it aims to fill gaps in knowledge and understanding of the law revealed in a recent survey of 500 Edinburgh secondary pupils.

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