The Townsville Bulletin looks into the rarely told story of the other side of the region’s youth crime crisis.
The Townsville Bulletin looks into the rarely told story of the other side of the region’s youth crime crisis.

The tragic past of accused teenage car thief

THIS is the side of Townsville's youth crime crisis often untold.

The boy accused of stealing two cars is 13 years old. He doesn't have a stable home. He's in the care of the state and has been since November 2016.

His father is in prison for murdering the boy's mother, and his grandmother, whom he lived with, has died.

He was forced into the care of the state and now lives in a group home, most likely with other youth offenders and children on protection orders.

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He spends time with a case worker and meets stakeholders from Youth Justice who work with him to address complex needs and provide support.

In almost three years he's been reported missing to police on 70 occasions.

Overnight on Sunday, he was allegedly able to steal a Nissan Navara, which was seen driving at speed on the wrong side of the road, crossing over median strips in Townsville's suburbs during a horror crime spree.

He is also accused of stealing another vehicle.

The boy, who can't be named for legal reasons, faced Townsville Magistrates Court yesterday charged with two counts of unlawful use of a motor vehicle.

The Townsville media successfully argued it was within the public interest to report on the boy's bail application which would have otherwise been heard behind closed doors, despite objection from both his defence solicitor and a representative from Youth Justice.

The court heard five days before allegedly stealing the dual cab ute the teenager had walked from the courthouse after finalising 13 other offences.

He has been in and out of court for 26 offences since June.

"He made it five days," Police Prosecutor Mark Fenlon said, of the latest offending.

Mr Fenlon described it as a strong case against the teenager.

The boy's fingerprints were allegedly found on the fuel cap of the Nissan Navara and in the driver's seat door of another vehicle, he said.

Mr Fenlon told the court the Nissan Navara had been driven "at speed on the wrong side of the road, crossing over median strips" on Monday.

"These have been very serious offences, very public offences that affected multiple members of the public, given the fact that this is a vehicle that has been driven … almost directly at a vehicle and across the other side of the road," he said.

"This is the matter that effectively caused planes to be diverted, so serious were the matters, because we had a search and rescue helicopter involved in the apprehension."

Defence solicitor Lea Bethune said the boy had a very traumatic upbringing as his father was in prison for murdering his mother.

He lived with his grandmother, who had since died, and was currently in state care and was living in a group home.

"This young child has only had stability for a very, very short time in his life," Ms Bethune said.

She described the offending as a "acting out behaviour".

Ms Bethune said her client shouldn't be remanded in custody as he was a 13-year-old boy who needed supervision, help and someone to get through to him.

Ultimately, acting Magistrate Susie Warrington refused bail on the grounds the court could not stop the boy from offending, nor was his safety ensured due to the alleged offences.

"It's clearly evident from the information before me that the department are unable to control his behaviour," she said.

Sources close to the issue said the youth justice system was broken.

"The problem with the system is the youth justice system and the child protection system are completely separate of each other," the source said.

"The kids who are in need of protection aren't getting the protection so therefore they are susceptible to committing crime." The source said it was a "never ending circle".

Boyd Curran, who ran the Beyond Billabong youth detention camp near Ingham before it was axed said politicians had become "too scared" to address the root cause of the problem.

Child Safety Youth and Women Minister Di Farmer said she could not comment specifically on the circumstances of individuals or on individual cases.

She said children were in residential care because they were unable to live with family and foster care would not meet their needs.

Ms Farmer said there were strict safety guidelines that child protection workers and carers followed when a child in care goes missing or is absent from their placement.

That included immediate action to locate the child and to contact police.

The Department conducts regular announced and unannounced visits to residential care facilities, she said.

The 13-year-old boy was arrested as part of Operation Romeo-Seville, which was implemented in the wake of a crime spike.

Five others were arrested in unrelated incidents including Mark Watson, 19, and Cutika Illin, 21, who did not apply for bail yesterday.

They will appear in court again on December 19.