Project to halt joyriding misery

21st June 1996 at 01:00
Clare Dean on the shock tactics being used in a partnership between a city's schools and the emergency services. Imagine the scene. A stolen car screaming along at 100mph crashes. Four people are killed. Dead bodies are trapped in cars or strewn across the street as emergency workers battle to save the lives of people suffering serious injuries.

The stark realities of joyriding are being brought home to pupils in Birmingham's schools through the words of police, doctors and an ex-offender. They are supplemented by often gruesome pictures taken at the scene of accidents, video footage shot by police and through radio communications recorded during police pursuit.

Joyriding or Grief Riding is a shock-treatment project which is the idea of PC Roy Jarratt, from West Midlands police, and Richard Riley, a Birmingham teacher. It has the backing of the chief constable, members of the city's Central Accident Resuscitation emergency team, MPs and Tim Brighouse, Birmingham's chief education officer.

The five-week courses began three years ago in community studies classes in Small Heath grant-maintained school, where Mr Riley works.

The project has extended to three other city schools, and PC Jarratt and Mr Riley are now looking for sponsorship to put together a video package of the project for other schools.

"Every city in the country has car crime," said Mr Riley. "The problem is not just peculiar to Birmingham and this area."

PC Jarratt knows of three joyriding pupils at Small Heath who have said they would never do it again as a result of the course.

"If it stops one kid going out and killing someone then yes, this project works. I can't say this project has caused the crime figures to go down, but they haven't significantly increased," he said.

Three years ago, 578 juveniles were prosecuted for unauthorised taking of vehicles, and 162 for interfering with cars. Throughout the city, there were more than 40,000 thefts or unauthorised takings of vehicles.

In the year ending April 1995, the latest period for which figures are available, 430 juveniles had been prosecuted for unauthorised taking of a vehicle, and 177 for trying to break into cars.

During that year, 28 juveniles were prosecuted for reckless driving, 13 for careless driving, one for causing death by reckless driving, 221 for aggravated vehicle taking, 76 for theft from cars and 113 for stealing them.

PC Jarratt is convinced the project has stopped many pupils from getting into stolen cars - often the first step in a career of joyriding.

Mark, a former joyrider from Coventry who is now in his early twenties, has had seven driving bans and since 1987 served seven separate prison sentences.

He has spoken to pupils about the grim facts of prison life, describing living conditions, the hostility of other inmates, the forced injection of drugs by them, and cell rape.

Mark became involved in the project after hearing about the death three years ago of Donna Cooper, a 13-year-old who was struck and dragged more than 100 yards by a car doing 60 mph in a built-up area near her home. At the time Mark was in Winson Green prison.

The shock tactics being used to steer children away from car crime in Birmingham have visibly shaken many of the 15 and 16-year-olds at whom the project is aimed.

Pupils often start the class giggling and fooling around - but they leave it in shocked silence after hearing a father talking about his baby who died as a result of injuries suffered in an accident involving a joyrider.

And, said Dana Mowatt, 15, from Small Heath school: "I didn't enjoy it, but it made me think. It made everyone think. Everyone took it really seriously. "

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