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 says it has made 'huge strides' in tackling the youth arrest rate which it puts down to the successful Restorative Justice Scheme where offenders meet their victims.

The number of arrests in Dorset dropped from 3,173 in 2008 to 815 in 2013, say the Howard League, which has been campaigning to keep as many children as possible out of the criminal justice system. It says 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.

A spokesman for Dorset Police 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.

“Dorset Police has made huge strides in reducing the numbers of children coming into custody and the figure has been reducing.

“The reduction in arrests does not mean that we are not dealing with these young person's offending behaviour, and we have managed many Restorative Justice Conferences where young offenders met with the victims of their crimes and were held personally to account for their actions.”

Child arrest figures for Dorset

2008: 3,173

2009: 2,822

2010: 2,310

2011: 1,600

2012: 1,252

2013: 815