CAMPAIGNERS have welcomed new figures which reveal that police in Dorset are arresting fewer children compared to five years ago.

The arrest rate now is one of the lowest in the country, only behind the Warwickshire force and City of London.

Figures obtained by the Howard League for Penal Reform through a Freedom of Information request reveal that arrests of minors in Dorset have dropped by 74 per cent since 2008.

The force puts it down to the successful Restorative Justice scheme where offenders meet their victims.

The number of arrests locally dropped from 3,173 in 2008 to 815 in 2013 says the Howard League, which claims forces have reviewed arrest procedures through its involvement.

Despite the positive trend, child arrests remain 'all too common nationwide,' the group says.

Children in England and Wales can be arrested by police from the age of 10 - the lowest age of criminal responsibility in Western Europe. Campaigners believe it should be 14.

Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform Frances Crook said: “It is encouraging to see that Dorset Police are making significantly fewer arrests of children than they were in 2008, thanks in part to our effective campaigning.

“The challenge for police now is to maintain this trend.”

A spokesman for Dorset Police said the force became aware in 2007 of 'worrying' high numbers of children and young people being arrested for relatively minor offences.

The spokesman said: “Together with one of the local Youth Offending Teams in 2008 Dorset Police piloted a Restorative Justice Scheme for young offenders, where they were required to face up to their offending by meeting with the victim. The pilot proved very successful particularly with the victims involved and the scheme was introduced across Dorset.”

The spokesman added: “We continue to monitor and evaluate our approach to dealing with young offenders. We recognise that many of these offenders are potentially vulnerable and the Youth Offending Teams are involved right from the outset, with extensive background checks being made to ensure that the appropriate support is given to vulnerable offenders.

“Dorset Police and Dorset Youth Offending Teams are very proud of the massive reductions we have achieved in the numbers of children and young persons being brought into custody. For some young offenders it will remain entirely appropriate to arrest them, but where we can address young people's offending without bringing them into custody we will.”