Surge in gun violence

23rd June 2006 at 01:00

But expert says police report has political agenda. Jane Marshall reports

Armed attacks in and around schools have risen by 73 per cent in a year, with most of the violence in the urban suburbs hit by riots last year, say police.

In 2004-5 there were 667 armed attacks in or around schools compared with 385 the year before, said a leaked police report, Weapons in the school environment, produced by the security division of the police force - equivalent to Britain's special branch.

But its findings are disputed by education ministry officials. A ministry spokesman, who had not read the report, said: "I think it reflects (the police) operations rather than the truth of the situation. We believe our figures better reflect the situation than theirs."

Incidents involving guns nearly doubled from 45 to 87, with shots fired in 39 cases. Knives accounted for 239 attacks, compared with 160 in 2003-4, and use of other weapons such as baseball bats and bicycle chains rose from 180 to 341, according to the report.

Lower secondary pupils, aged 11 to 15, accounted for 46 per cent of guns confiscated by the police, 38.5 per cent of guns fired and 67 per cent of knife attacks.

The period covered by the report did not include the nationwide riots last November. Nearly one in three incidents occurred in 5 per cent of schools.

Neighbourhood gangs were on the increase and also contributed to the rise of violence on school premises, with 17.4 per cent of recorded weapons attributable to gang rivalries or disputes over drugs, said the report. It cited an incident in April 2005 at a lycee in the Val-de-Marne, outside Paris, in which a youth who had sought refuge in the school from attackers, was badly burned.

The report said the use of bats had become commonplace and the worrying rise in the presence and use of firearms, near and inside schools, "reveals a porousness between the street and school".

It recommended increased security at school entrances, installation of CCTV in and outside premises and more police around schools.

The report's findings contrast sharply with figures from the education ministry, which has claimed there was only a 3 per cent increase in violence between 2002 and 2005.

Part of the disparity can be explained by the use of different sources, definitions and timescale.

The report is also disputed by Bruno Mer, a teaching union expert in school violence.

Mr Mer, who has taught for 10 years at a lower secondary in one of the poorest Parisian suburbs where 50 per cent of young people are jobless, said: "Even if we cannot deny that violence has increased since 2002, we see fewer violent acts, fewer weapons than the report says. It is very surprising!"

He said pupils may not be the trouble-makers, since incidents outside school are included in the police figures. He questioned whether the report could itself be a weapon, of a political kind, to persuade regional authorities to introduce a police presence into schools.


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