Children aged 10 among hundreds held over alleged gun crimes
Children as young as 10 were among hundreds of youngsters arrested for suspected gun crimes in the last three years, new data has revealed.
More than 1,500 children were held over alleged firearm offences between 2013 and January 2016.
Among the figures, the Metropolitan Police made 679 arrests, while seven children aged under 11 were held in Nottinghamshire.
The number of arrests rose by 20% last year, the Press Association said.
The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed 1,549 children were arrested for suspected crimes involving firearms, air weapons or imitation guns.
A total of 506 charges were brought by police.
'Gangs using children'
The brother of a fatal shooting victim said he believed gangs were using children to carry guns to avoid detection.
Ian Cameron Swanston, whose 20-year-old brother Dorrie was shot dead in Hulme, Manchester in 1999, also said some youngsters carried guns for "status".
Mr Swanston, who is a counsellor and trustee of the charity Mothers Against Violence, said: "The more guns within the community, the more likely it is we will see younger children getting access to them.
"Gangs use children, they use their girlfriends. They use people who the police are unlikely to search.
"For some it's about status. Having a gun is seen as having power and people become fearful of you."
Merseyside Police said 73 children were arrested between 2013 and 2015. Fourteen boys were charged with crimes involving firearms including robbery, possession of a firearm, possession of an air weapon in a public place, sending threats, wounding and false imprisonment.
West Midlands Police said 83 boys and one girl had been charged with firearm offences since 2013, including an 11-year-old boy in 2015, a 12-year-old boy in 2013 and eight boys aged 13.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland said nine boys and one girl were arrested for suspected firearm offences in 2015, compared with six boys in 2014 and seven boys and one girl in 2013.
Greater Manchester Police, which has investigated a string of gang-related shootings since "Salford's Mr Big" Paul Massey was shot dead in July, and Police Scotland were among the forces which did not provide figures.
Among the other forces which provided data:
- Kent Police said a 13-year-old boy and a girl aged 15 were charged with possessing imitation firearms
- North Wales Police said a 13-year-old boy was arrested for possession of a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, while a girl aged 13 was charged after police seized a BB gun in 2015
- Derbyshire Constabulary said a 10-year-old boy was among six children charged with a firearm offence since 2013
- Cumbria Constabulary - which investigated the Derrick Bird shooting in 2010, which killed 12 people - said 19 children arrested for suspected firearm offences since 2013 included a 10-year-old, two youngsters aged 11 and two 12-year-olds
A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs' Council said firearms offences in the UK accounted for less than 0.2% of total recorded crime.
"Forces across the country and community safety partnerships are working together to prevent young people getting involved in gangs and firearms," he said.
"This is a key piece of work for all agencies and communities in breaking the cycle of young people becoming involved in gangs and the associated criminality."