Boys spared custody for attempted rape of girl, eight

Two primary schoolboys who became Britain's youngest sex offenders when they were convicted of attempting to rape an eight-year-old girl were yesterday spared custody after the judge said they were too young to realise the severity of the crime.

Mr Justice Saunders told the Old Bailey that while he did not accept the defence's argument that the boys, who were 10 at the time, were simply playing "doctors and nurses", he was satisfied that they did not know that what they were doing was criminal. He imposed three-year supervision orders on both of them.

He said: "You are very young and while I do not accept that what happened was a game, I do accept that you didn't realise how serious what you were doing was."

As the boys, wearing shirts, trousers and cardigans, sat next to their mothers in the well of the court, their barristers spoke of the effect that their convictions have had on the boys' lives.

Chetna Patel, representing the boy who is younger by one month, said that due to the restrictions placed on him while awaiting sentence, he was unable to go to the park, go swimming or associate with any other children even in the company of his mother. She added: "He has been unable to conduct his life at all."

Linda Strudwick described her client as "a normal, well-adjusted boy". She added: "He has probably suffered more than any adult that has gone through this process, simply because of his age. For a 10-year-old to be taken to a police station for 24 hours is a terrifying experience. And no matter how much your lordship tried to make this an undaunting experience, it is still the Central Criminal Court and it still daunted [him]."

After his sentencing, the judge allowed the boys to leave court. The older boy walked hand-in-hand with his mother, who planted a kiss on his head as they left. The younger boy's mother left court walking at least 10 yards in front of her child.

When they had left, Mr Justice Saunders added: "It may sound from all this that I am forgetting the little girl involved. I do not. Everyone will sympathise with her for what she has gone through. Not only what happened to her as the victim of these offences, but also to have to give evidence about them. I hope that she will be given all the help that she undoubtedly deserves to get over her experiences."