DOZENS of children aged nine or under have been investigated by police for crimes as serious as rape, sexual assault and common assault.

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New figures from Suffolk Constabulary show that in 2011/12 more than 50 children were suspected of a range of offences and two adults were investigated for alleged historic rape cases committed in 1982 and 1994 when the suspects were aged nine and seven, respectively.

Two children, a seven-year-old and an eight-year-old from villages outside Bury St Edmunds were suspects in separate investigations into sexual assaults on males.

Police have said that in many cases, the children involved are so young they are often “not aware of the extent” of their actions.

Police have confirmed that no further action was taken in the cases of historic rape and that the children accused of sexual assault on a male were under the age of criminal responsibility – meaning that they would have been spoken to about the alleged incidents but no punishment was handed out.

Twenty-two eight-year-old children from Felixstowe and Trimley were spoken to by officers as suspects in investigations into the throwing of objects onto the A14, the figures also reveal. Other cases investigated included two eight-year-olds suspected of arson in Haverhill and Ipswich, offences of shoplifting in Lowestoft, Beccles, Stowmarket and Newmarket and several incidents of criminal damage.

Two instances of “malicious wounding and other like offences” were also examined – one nine-year-old from Wrentham was deemed under the age of criminal responsibility while no further action was taken against another nine-year-old from Haverhill.

A police spokesman said it worked with partner agencies in such cases and it was important not to “criminalise” young children below the age of responsibility.

He said: “Investigations of this nature are very sensitive and can be challenging in how they should be approached and resolved.

“It may be a case where children are experimenting, it might be something they’ve seen, but they’re often not aware of the extent of what they’ve done or what’s happened. It is important in cases such as these that we are not criminalising young children unnecessarily; the important thing is that appropriate steps are taken to resolve the issues.

“We work with partner agencies to look at the needs of the children involved and their families, and then put the appropriate levels of support into those families.”

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