A 14-year-old Hartlepool schoolboy has become Britain's youngest football hooligan and banned from attending matches for three years.
The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been involved in fights and abusive behaviour towards rivals fans and was caught offending at five Hartlepool United matches in a year. Police spotted him goading other supporters during a game at Victoria Park, and also 'seeking disorder' after a planned confrontation with rival fans in Hartlepool town centre.
He was then spotted by police misbehaving at two other home games – once by goading away supporters inside the stadium, and again at an away game where he taunted fans as he made his way to the match.
Hartlepool Magistrates heard a catalogue of incidents involving the boy, resulting in the bench ordering him to surrender his passport when England play abroad, and banning him from every football stadium in the UK and Wales.
The boy is now officially the youngest person to be charged in this way.
Detective Constable Jamie Smith, from Cleveland Police's Football Intelligence Unit told reporters that the ban was a 'preventative' measure.
"This boy from Hartlepool is currently the youngest subject of a banning order in the UK," Detective Constable Smith said. "We applied for this ban as a preventative measure because we wanted to remove a 14-year-old that is keen on contributing to violence and disorder connected with football."
"Over the years Hartlepool has caused us very little problems because the majority of supporters go to enjoy themselves. It's unfortunate that we became aware, and are aware, of a small minority that go to games for confrontation rather than football."
The boy attended court with his parents and apologised for his behaviour, claiming 'I won't do it again'.
His father told the magistrates that his son was 'easily led' and had been 'caught up' in the trouble.
"Since he stopped going he's actually started knocking around, as the saying goes, with his schoolmates and his nose is now clean," his dad said. "I think it was a one-off thing."
The chairman of the bench, Keith Gorton, told the boy he hoped he could put the trouble behind him.
"We hope that, based on what your mum and dad have said, that this is something you can put behind you and that you are not led by other people in the future, and that we don't see you in court again," Mr Gorton said.