CHILDREN as young as 10 could be hit with £80 fines as part of a purge on people dropping litter in the city.

Oxford City Council decided to take the step after calls for a tougher line on youngsters.

Last night the Town Hall insisted it was not being heavy-handed, but instead taking a “carefully graded response”.

At present council teams charged with tackling the problem are powerless to deter young litterbugs.

But they said the powers would give them “teeth” and mean persistent offenders can be fined for blighting parks and pavements.

The move was prompted by problems in Blackbird Leys and has been backed by the parish council there.

Parish council chairman Gordon Roper said: “It is this age group that are causing the problem.

“By the bowls club where teenagers congregate the mess is unbelievable.”

The council began its zero tolerance approach to litter in November 2009 and enforcement officers have issued 449 fines totalling £26,485.

But they can only hand out fixed penalty notices to people caught dropping litter if they are 18 or over.

A number of fines, issued as part of the council’s Cleaner, Greener Campaign, backed by the Oxford Mail, were torn up after being handed to children.

Under the proposed powers officers would warn children caught littering and ask them to pick up the rubbish they had dropped.

If a youngster refused, their details would be passed to Thames Valley Police, who could then write to parents, or in persistent cases issue an £80 fine.

John Tanner, executive board member for a Cleaner, Greener Oxford, said: “At the moment, if someone is aged under 18 we can’t really do anything.

“This will give us the powers to deal with teenagers dropping litter and we can report that to the police.

“It is not heavy handed, it is a carefully graded response.”

Mr Tanner said the new rules had been investigated at the suggestion of council staff after targeted litter campaigns in Blackbird Leys and the city centre.

The council’s public health team leader Graham Eagle said: “There is no policy for under-18s and we have ended up avoiding the issue as we can’t do anything.”

“They know if we have no powers to back it up it means nothing if we speak to them. This gives teeth to what we do.”

He said the aim of the new policy was to deal with problems before they escalated and fines would only be used as a last resort.

The powers, available to all councils, are set to be adopted by Oxford City Council’s executive board at a meeting on September 1.

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