CHILDREN under the age of 10 have been accused of committing more than 130 crimes in Bolton — including claims an eight-year-old committed a rape — in the last three years.

The figures also reveal children as young as four have reportedly vandalised cars.

Crimes reportedly committed by children in Bolton also include assault, burglary, theft, racially or religiously aggravated assault and public order offences and shoplifting.

In total there were 132 crimes said to have been committed by children under 10, according to figures obtained by The Bolton News under freedom of information laws.

The most common crime was assault, of which there were 32 reported incidents, including nine in which the victim was injured.

Next highest was damage to a vehicle, with 29 incidents, while there were 16 reports of shoplifting and 15 of racially or religiously aggravated public order offences.

Police say some of these incidents are “very minor”, but figures look high because of how offences are recorded.

Children under 10 are not criminally responsible in the eyes of the law, and cannot be prosecuted.

Det Insp Michael Sanderson, who works in Bolton’s public protection investigation unit dealing with child protection and sexual crimes, said: “We work with social services and help to educate them and the parents.

“It could be that children are behaving inappropriately because of something they have been exposed to at home.

“These children could be from neglectful backgrounds and are victims themselves.”

He said minor offences which would not have been recorded in the past are now logged.

Det Insp Sanderson said: “Two children aged six could push each other in the playground — that would be recorded as a crime.

“So figures may look high but actually it is no different — just being recorded differently.”

Bolton Council’s social services department can become involved to support families if it is thought problems at home may be at the root of a child’s criminal behaviour.

A council spokesman said: “Depending upon the needs of the child, the police or the courts can refer them to the council, which assesses the child and family and decides what actions are necessary.

“We work closely with partner organisations to support the children and their families using a wide range of initiatives which aim to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.”

The Howard League for Penal Reform is a national charity campaigning for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.

It wants to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility and ensure that society engages with the child behind the crime.

Campaign director Andrew Neilson said: “These figures are obviously of concern. But we should keep in perspective that numbers alone perhaps do not reflect what may be very minor misdemeanours by small children, who know no better, where the police have become involved most likely because they have happened in public.

“If small children are finding themselves in contact with the criminal justice system, particularly in the most serious cases, it is important that we do not see this as a crime but as the welfare issue that it almost certainly is.

“It should be an opportunity for children’s services and other relevant agencies to engage in finding out whether there are underlying problems.”