JUST two hours of surveillance in Maidstone town centre netted 70 truants, most under 12 and out of school with the connivance of their parents.
Two Kent coppers, Martin Carter and Paul Richardson, joined forces with four education welfare officers one Friday morning earlier this month in a spot check as part of an exercise under the new Crime and Disorder Act.
This gives police new powers to apprehend truants and either return them to school or to a place designated by the local education authority.
Mr Carter said he was "totally shocked at the way parents dragged their children round town when they were supposedly off school because of illness". The check was also part of a drive against a seasonal increase in crime called Operation Yo-Yo. "We are aware of the definite link between truanting and juvenile crime," he said.
Just over a third were from Maidstone schools, said Debbie Spice, acting principal education welfare officer. The parents involved were on the whole quite aggressive, she added.
The Maidstone initiative is likely to be taken up by at county level by Kent police in co-operation with education officers.
Another check is planned and parents should know that come April 2000 they may be fined up to Pounds 1,000 under the Act for condoning truancy.