12-year-old Manx girl is spared return to island jail

The 12-year-old girl at the centre of the child-jailing furore on the Isle of Man admitted in court yesterday to seven assaults and five cases of criminal damage, but escaped further imprisonment after her lawyer pleaded for understanding.

The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was brought to the juvenile court in Douglas by two prison officers. She sat in court, with her long blonde hair in a pony tail, next to her case worker, rushing to chat and hug her aunt and mother during breaks in the proceedings

She was given a conditional discharge yesterday and was returned to the island's children's home were she is under 24-hour supervision from two social workers. The island's social services are expected to try and find a secure establishment on the mainland where she can receive counselling.

The disclosure that the girl spent seven days in a juvenile annexe at the island's only prison has caused outrage. Under Manx law, children as young as 10 can be jailed at Victoria Road prison in Douglas.

The mother of the 12-year-old, who is subject to a care order, said in court that it was "disgraceful" her daughter had been locked in the prison and said she was "messed up".

Her daughter admitted to a series of offences mostly against staff at the children's home between March and June. They included kicking a worker in the mouth and shins causing bleeding and bruising, and kicking another person in the stomach.

There were also several incidents of assaulting staff, in which she spat, swore and hit out, as they tried to control her.

Her case worker, Rose Banell, said the girl had been in care for almost two years and there had been two failed attempts to place her with foster parents.

Her advocate, Terence McDonald, argued: "This is a child who we all accept has difficulties and having a [criminal] record is not going to help her go into the world."

He added: "This is a chapter that is going to live with her for the rest of her life."

Chairman of the Bench, Malcolm Hartley, said that although the offences were "severe", in view of "circumstances" he had decided to give her a discharge on the condition she did not reoffend again in the next 12 months. He told her: "We want you to have a long and happy life but it requires your co-operation."

Outside court, Mr McDonald said: "I feel recent events have moved the authorities to think very hard about funding alternative accommodation for these children other than sending them to prison."

In another case, the court chairman reprimanded police for charging a 15-year-old boy with drinking a bottle of lager in public. Mr Hartley said the boy, who had no previous related offences and was not drunk, should have been cautioned.

The case follows criticism of the the Isle of Man police for taking a gung-ho attitude to bringing charges, particularly against juveniles. Unlike in Britain, the Manx police decide whether to bring a charge.

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