Boys guilty of trying to rape girl aged eight

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Two boys aged 10 and 11 were found guilty today of attempting to rape a girl of eight.

They were among the youngest boys to be prosecuted for rape in Britain.

They were both aged 10 last October when an eight-year-old girl complained to her mother that she had been assaulted.

The youngsters had been playing together in Hayes, west London, when the girl said she was taken into a block of flats where her ordeal began.

The boys sat with their mothers and solicitors in the well of the court at the Old Bailey, and lawyers dispensed with their wigs and gowns for the two-week trial.

The boys were each found guilty of two charges of attempted rape, but both were cleared of two alternative offences of rape.

They had denied assaulting the girl and their barristers claimed they were just being naughty or playing a game.

But the judge Mr Justice Saunders refused their pleas to throw out the case after the girl admitted she had not been truthful about some of her evidence.

He said it was the jury's job to decide if the witness could be trusted.

And he added that the girl had been consistent in what she told adults, including police and doctors, soon after the incident.

The girl's police video interview was played to the court and then she was questioned by barristers through a videolink to an ante-room.

The judge remarked that she looked exhausted at the end, when she began to answer "yeah" to most of the questions.

Rosina Cottage, prosecuting, told the court that the boys approached the girl when she was playing with a friend.

She said: "Together they took her to different locations near where they lived in order to find a sufficiently secluded spot to assault her."

The girl was assaulted in a block of flats, a bin shed and a field.

The girl's mother told the court she had found her with the boys near a field after another child said the boys were hurting her.

"She said (the boys) have been doing sex with me," said the mother.

"I asked what do you mean and she said they had been 'putting their willy inside me'.

"She told me she wanted to go home but they made her do it. They told her not to tell anyone.

"I was still sitting in the car because I was absolutely stunned by what she had told me.

"She was very, very embarrassed. She was squirming."

In her police video interview, the girl clutched a teddy bear as she said she was playing with a five-year-old boy when the older boys offered to take her to her friend's home in the flats.

But in the hallway, she said: "They pulled their pants down and showed me their willies.

"Then they pulled my pants down. I didn't want to and then they put me into the lift and then they done it again."

The girl said she was taken to a bin shed and assaulted before being taken to the field where she was assaulted again.

In a second video interview two months later, the girl said one of the boys had thrown her scooter into a bush.

She said: "They said if I didn't pull down my pants, they won't get my scooter from the bush."

The girl said the older boy had lifted her up so the younger boy could assault her.

NSPCC lawyer Barbara Esam said: "Research has shown that many young witnesses don't understand the questions they are asked under cross-examination so we believe a pre-recorded interview - with the help of an intermediary in appropriate cases - to be a much better option.

"Sadly, we still have a way to go to make sure courts work in the best way for children - both defendants and witnesses - who will be frightened and need support all the way through the judicial process if they are going to give their best evidence."

As the guilty verdicts were returned, one of the boys turned to look at his mother but she showed no reaction.

The other boy did not react. His mother, also sitting next to him, looked intently at the jury.

Both were bailed pending reports which will take eight weeks to prepare, and filed out of the court by a side door with their mothers.

The judge told jurors: "It was an extremely difficult case. No doubt it was traumatic for you to some extent as well to hear this case."

Turning to the defendants, he said: "There is little I can say which would make either parents or boys feel better but the welfare and best interests of the children have a high priority in any sentencing procedure."

The judge said he could not give any indication about sentence at this stage without seeing the reports.

Both boys were ordered to register as sex offenders.

But the judge said: "I am not quite sure how it applies to children of this age."

He added: "These cases are not easy. Fortunately, they are infrequent."

The judge invited those involved in the case to make observations about how it had been conducted.

He said: "I will at some stage be sending my views about the procedure to those who are most concerned with it.

"That is not to indicate that there is anything wrong, but we should do everything we can to improve how we deal with these things by looking at the lessons that we can learn."

Alison Saunders, chief Crown prosecutor for London, said: "Any case involving young children is always difficult and calls for the most sensitive handling.

"In this case the allegations made by the young girl were very serious.

"She had given a clear and compelling account to the police and her account was consistent with the medical evidence and with the accounts given by other witnesses to the police.

"She has the same right to the protection of the law as an adult and that is why, after very careful consideration of all the evidence, the case was put before a jury. The decision to prosecute was not taken lightly.

"Rape and attempted rape are very serious offences and the defendants were both very young.

"The CPS was determined that they should have a fair trial and every effort was made to that end.

"This was never going to be an easy case for a court to hear but that does not absolve the CPS of its duty to prosecute where there is sufficient evidence to do so and a prosecution is in the public interest.

"We hope that the jury's verdict today can provide the young girl and her family with some comfort after these difficult events."

Michele Elliott, director of children's charity Kidscape, said the way the case had been dealt with was "absolutely wrong".

She said: "Obviously if these boys did something they need help. Their young age and the young age of their victim makes it absurd that this took place in an adversarial court situation.

"I think it reflects horribly on our whole system, that a case like this with children should be tried in this way.

"I'm kind of shocked by it because we pride ourselves on being a child-friendly society and this is not protecting anyone - not the victim or the boys.

Ms Elliott said the only good that might come out of the case would be "if these boys are put into a treatment programme and helped and the girl isn't totally traumatised by it".

She added: "It should have been held in camera with no publicity at all. The whole thing is horrific, all the way along."

One defence lawyer in the case said during the trial that the boys had only been playing games.

Linda Strudwick told jurors: "What this case is about is not a serious crime. It is about children. There is a game called 'You show me yours and I will show you mine'.

"Maybe it went too far, maybe it went to touching, maybe they were doing something they had seen on television, maybe they were playing that age-old game, doctors and nurses.

"They are kids. If (her client) had been a few months younger, he could not have been charged."