In the arms of the law

15th December 2006 at 00:00
West Linton Primary pupils find out what it's like to be on the wrong side of justice

IN PEEBLES police station, primary pupils are queuing up to be breathalysed and have their fingerprints and DNA taken.

Twelve P7 children from West Linton Primary are jabbing their hands in the air, volunteering. Police Constable Nicola Page chooses a girl and a boy, and brushes the inside of their cheeks to obtain cells for testing. She also takes fingerprints from each child, breathalyses two - one confesses he had a little mulled wine the night before - and takes their photographs.

She shows them a bulky machine, an Intoximeter, and explains why it is so important not to drink and drive.

PC Page is the "locality integration officer" for the Tweeddale area. She takes the children into the two police cells and shows them around the station, taking a trip out to the police van as well, where they try out the siren and switch on the lights. A volunteer is handcuffed and another tries on a riot helmet.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Eddie Kelly is showing the other half of the class around. "Make sure it's the last time you're in one of these," he says, as he lets them out the back of the van and takes them into the courtroom at the Sheriff Court, which occupies the same building as the police station.

The aim of the visits is to demystify the police, show what work they do, educate children about the justice process and teach them about citizenship and responsibilities. "It's to show we're here to help; not to arrest you," says PC Page.

Jennifer Crow, the class teacher, thinks it's a valuable trip, introducing children to the processes involved in policing and enabling them to see the range of different jobs. The class has been studying democratic society and citizenship.

"It fits in with A Curriculum for Excellence as well," she says, "in developing responsible citizens."

"I watch The Bill on TV,but being here and seeing it, it's really cool," is pupil Jodi Milligan's verdict. "I would quite like to do it."

After lunch, the children are ushered into the courtroom for a mock trial.

Two 11-year-olds stand accused of stealing a magazine. The pupils act out the roles, from sheriff, procurator fiscal, defence solicitor, accused and witnesses to dock escorts, police officers, court artist, newspaper reporter and the people of the jury. PC Page visited them in class to outline the scenario.

Legal professionals from the area have come to lend their support. A justice of the peace, depute fiscal, solicitor and clerk of the court brief the children playing the procurator fiscal, defence solicitor and sheriff, and guide them during the trial, to make it as realistic as possible.

"Court rise," shouts the clerk of the court, and the trial begins. The court hears testimony from a shopowner and assistant. John and Karen are questioned by the prosecution and cross-examined by the defence. Two police officers are also questioned, then the accused plead.

The jury, seven pupils, their teacher and a parent retire to consider the evidence. John is found guilty and Karen is not guilty. The sheriff fines John pound;10, payable in weekly instalments of pound;1 a week.

For the children, the police officers, lawyers, retailers and citizens of the future, it's been informative, and they return to school, hoping not to find themselves in the dock.

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