Dozens of North East children were among hundreds of youngsters arrested for suspected gun crimes nationally in the last three years, new figures have revealed.
More than 1,500 child arrests for alleged firearm offences were carried out by police between 2013 and January 2016, with the number soaring by 20% last year.
Figures released by forces under the Freedom of Information Act showed there were 1,549 arrests of children for suspected crimes involving firearms, air weapons or imitation guns, including 506 charges brought by police.
Northumbria Police said eight boys were arrested for suspected firearm offences in 2015, compared with five in 2014 and 25 in 2013. Another boy was arrested in January 2016 and two girls in 2014.
A 15-year-old boy, a 16-year-old boy and two boys aged 17 were charged with firearm offences in 2013. A 17-year-old boy was charged in 2014. Two boys aged 17 and a 16-year-old boy were charged in 2015.
The charges included possession of a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, possessing or distributing prohibited weapons or ammunition and carrying a loaded or unloaded or imitation firearm or air weapon in a public place and possessing or distributing prohibited weapons designed for discharge of noxious liquid.
Cleveland Police said two boys aged 17 had been arrested for possession of a loaded/unloaded air weapon in a public place in 2013 and 2014. One boy was charged.
Durham Constabulary said a 17- year-old girl was arrested for possession of an imitation firearm in 2013. The force did not reveal if any children were charged.
A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman said: “Firearms offences in the UK still account for less than 0.2% of total recorded crime. These offences reflect a broad range of crimes which can include air weapons or even possession of a BB gun if used in criminal circumstances.
“Forces across the country and community safety partnerships are working together to prevent young people getting involved in gangs and firearms. This is a key piece of work for all agencies and communities in breaking the cycle of young people becoming involved in gangs and the associated criminality.”