Almost half a million youngsters belong to teenage gangs that regularly break the law and intimidate their communities. Many take illegal drugs, carry weapons and have been involved in serious violence, as well as vandalising property and frightening passers-by.

A Home Office study of gang culture - the first official report into the phenomenon - paints a bleak picture of the lure of youth gangs, with children as young as 10 becoming members. It calculates that 6 per cent of youngsters between 10 and 19 - equivalent to 480,000 people - are regular members and dispels the romantic image of gangs as groups of teenagers having a bit of harmless fun.

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