Perspective: Horror Show of Wasted Youth; in Just a Few Hours at Birmingham Youth Court There Was an Appalling Catalogue of Cases to Be Heard, from Theft to Rape, Reports Richard McComb

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard McComb

Gary was caught red-handed with a stash of crack cocaine in a tower block in Birmingham.

The drug, or rocks, were wrapped in cling film and were found by police in a left-hand pocket of his denim jacket.

Gary claimed the garment did not belong to him but no one believed the story. He was convicted of possessing cocaine.

Gary cut an imposing figure and appeared before the magistrates in blue Levi jeans, wearing them off his hips like an LA rapper. His light grey bomber jacket slumped off his broad shoulders and was hanging halfway down his back.

Gary looked about 25 and had a glazed appearance that suggests he's seen it all before.

In fact, this was his first offence. Gary was aged 14. This may be the last offence he commits but if it is not, his record of convictions will begin with possession of a class A drug.

The teenager's solicitor tried to soften the blow, telling the magistrates: 'Potentially, the only victim would have been Gary . . .'

But the chairman of the court, Michael McIntosh, cut in: 'So it is not a victimless crime, then.'

Gary's was the fourth case of the day in Court 1 at Birmingham Youth Court. He lurched through the doors after two boys aged 17 and 18 were committed for trial on robbery offences.

It was never going to be an uplifting experience in the juvenile court, but I had not bargained on it being quite so depressing.

Suspected blackmailers, muggers, a bank robber, a burglar, a sex attacker, vandals, boys and girls, the downright scary and the utterly disturbed. They paraded through the court in a sickening pageant of blighted youth.

There were some you wanted to put your arm around, but you would cross the street to avoid most of them.

The sense of despair became apparent before the day's proceedings started at 10am. Lawyers swapped stories about mounting overtime payments for attending police stations for interviews and expressed general dismay about the legal process.

'I can cope with the rationality, it is the irrationality . . .' murmured one advocate.

Another mused about one of his clients, a hapless habitual thief: 'That's his line of business. Pinches a bit here, pinches a bit there, puts it under a bush.'

The atmosphere in the courtroom was stifling but Gary did not appear bothered by the heat. And neither, outwardly at least, did he appear bothered about his future.

Gary has been dumped in Birmingham by his parents, who have left for Jamaica. No one knows when, or if, they will return. Gary's carer is an older brother.

The magistrates decided to draw up a three-month action plan for the first-time offender. It included six one-hour counselling sessions to address his negative attitude, group therapy and a referral to an educational social worker.

Gary was also ordered to pay pounds 50 prosecution costs but his brother, who was not in court, will have to pay.

Mr McIntosh did not let Gary leave court without a warning: 'The fact remains you are getting into serious trouble. Possession of drugs is a serious offence.'

Gary did not want to live in Jamaica and Mr McIntosh told him he needed to abide by the laws of this country. 'If you don't, you will end up in the clink,' he said. 'You are 14. In the next four years you are going to be with the big boys.'

Gary was on his way after 30 minutes in court. Next up was 16-year-old Iqbal, who was brought up from the police cells in handcuffs.

The court wanted his father to post a pounds 5,000 surety before granting his son bail, and there was a good reason. Iqbal might be a waif-like figure, dwarfed on his seat by the jailer, but the police say this youngster tried to rob a bank.

Through an Urdu interpreter, the father agreed to lodge the money with the court. He stands to lose it if his son does a runner. …