Boys in court accused of trying to kill children

Brothers, 10 and 11, on attempted murder charges as Doncaster child protection services come under fire again
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The Independent Online

The brothers stood together in the packed courtroom separated by a male security guard.

Looking small for their age and sporting the similar haircut, the younger, at just 10, could barely see above the bar of the glass-fronted dock. They were almost angelic.

In front of them, ranks of police, social workers and journalists watched as the charges of attempted murder and robbery were read out and the proceedings were explained by court officials. Neither of the boys showed any emotion.

The brothers had been taken to the 1960s concrete magistrates' court building in Doncaster early yesterday afternoon after being questioned by police for three days.

Each faces four charges in connection with an alleged attack on a nine-year-old and an 11-year-old in New Edlington, South Yorkshire, on Saturday afternoon – the first day of the Easter holidays.

Alongside the two allegations of attempted murder, the boys were formally accused of taking a mobile phone from the younger victim and £5 from the older child. During the hearing the boys spoke to confirm their dates of birth and that they understood the charges being laid against them.

The older brother, 11, wore a red England football shirt for the occasion before changing during a short break in proceedings into a grey Umbro sports top like the one worn by his smaller sibling.

Between them they remained impassive at the formality of events during the hour it took for District Judge Jonathan Bennett to conclude the proceedings. He remanded the boys into secure local authority care and ordered them to return to court, in seven days' time. Lawyers for the boys did not seek bail.

Meanwhile, the two alleged victims, found close to their homes with serious injuries by neighbours, were continuing to receive hospital treatment. The older boy was said to be "stable and improving" while the younger boy was expected to have a further operation on his badly cut arm.

In a statement issued through South Yorkshire Police, the parents of the 11-year-old said: "We would like to thank all the community for their help in finding our son and for all their continued support through what is a very traumatic time. We are hoping that our son will continue to recover from his ordeal and ask that the media will continue to respect our privacy."

Despite the small difference in their ages the boys are uncle and nephew but also close friends – more like brothers, neighbours said – sharing a passion for football and particularly Manchester United.

The events of the past four days have had a profound effect on the people of New Edlington. Amid the whirr of the helicopter chartered by the television news channels, police have continued with their highly visible presence designed to reassure locals they are safe.

The former pit village was built to accommodate the thousands of miners needed to work in the Yorkshire Main Colliery. It closed in the wake of the year-long miners' strike in 1986 – a cataclysmic event which consigned the people of the area to years of economic woe and social deprivation. Today the 12,000-strong community retains many of the ties of the old pit days. It is close-knit and families live within a few streets of each other. Children play outside, frequenting the same haunts as their parents did a generation ago.

Former colliery workers, now grown old, lovingly tend the allotments close to the disused quarry where the alleged attack is said to have taken place, or drink in the working men's clubs which stubbornly cling on in the face of changing tastes, as part of the integral fabric of this community.

The revelation that the two boys were in the foster care of the local authority at the time of the alleged attack, also put Doncaster council's troubled children services back in the spotlight. The service's director, Gareth Williams, said the case had been referred to the Doncaster Safeguarding Children's Board for a full review. It is the eighth such review ordered by the council since 2004.