THE leader of a youth offending team whose work has helped to significantly reduce the number of youngsters committing crime has been honoured with a national award.

Jo Benson, manager of Darlington Youth Offending Service, has received a Butler Trust award for being an outstanding leader.

The service has seen the number of youth offences drop sharply in recent years, and was described by the Butler Trust as one of the best in the country.

Mrs Benson, who manages a team of 26 staff from the council, police, probation and health service, will be presented with her award by the Princess Royal at St James's Palace in April.

The 40-year-old, who lives in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire, said: “It is a huge honour to have been granted this award, I am very proud of the great achievements of the team.

“We are such a small team - we are the third smallest in the country.

“I really enjoy making a difference – if we can change one person’s life to me that is a success.

“This is only the beginning and I will continue to lead to deliver more, in order to divert young people away from offending and helping them move forward to lead fulfilled and positive lives.”

The mother-of-one was interviewed alongside 44 others in London last year and was one of only ten to be honoured with an award.

She was praised for her innovative approach and early intervention work with young people in schools, as well as use of restorative justice for low level offences.

Their partnership work with Durham University was also praised, which has seen students research key youth offending issues and take part in master classes with service staff.

Durham's Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg said: “What is being done in Darlington is absolutely fabulous and there is no doubt in my mind that a great deal of that is down to Jo.

“I am delighted Jo’s dedication and commitment to youth justice across Darlington has been recognised nationally.”

Bill Dixon, leader of Darlington Borough Council, congratulated Mrs Benson and said: “If you map out the impact of an offender over a ten to 15 year ‘career’ the number of families who will be affected by their crime will be into the hundreds.

“Just diverting one offender away from crime could save hundreds of families going though the trauma of a burglary, or theft.

“The Youth Offending Service is a fantastic team that Darlington can be proud of.”