Mother of boy in attempted-murder case appeals for more help

The mother of a five-year-old boy, who was allegedly attacked by gang of 11- and 12-year-olds in a suspected murder attempt, has issued an appeal for information.

As specially trained officers continued to try to coax more details of the attack out of Anthony Hinchliffe, his mother Terri Brown said: "This has been a very distressing time for both myself and my family.

"One of my main concerns, now that I have Anthony back with me, is for anyone who has any information which could help the police to come forward and get in touch. If you do know anything at all, please call."

Last night, detectives were questioning a 12- year-old girl.

Anthony was found wandering alone on Tuesday night with what police described as horrific injuries: bruising and a ligature-type mark consistent with a rope being tied around his neck.

His family said the "happy, bubbly" little boy had been playing in the garden of their home in the Chickenley area of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, when he was led away by an older girl. He told them he had been taken to a woodland area where "girls and boys" had placed a rope around his neck and attempted to tie him to a tree.

West Yorkshire police - who are treating the incident as attempted murder - initially arrested five children, though two 12-year-old boys and an 11-year-old girl and boy were released without charge yesterday.

A 12-year-old girl, who had been freed after magistrates refused to grant police extra time to question her yesterday, was rearrested in the evening and taken to Dewsbury police station. Officers said they were still looking for up to three other people in connection with the incident and warned that the investigation could take some time as the process of interviewing the children was "painstaking".

The alleged assault immediately struck an unwelcome note of recognition in the public consciousness with its parallels to the disturbing murder of the Merseyside toddler James Bulger in 1993.

Last night James's mother, Denise Fergus, said she was relieved to hear that Anthony had been safely returned to his mother. "Thank God, despite the trauma suffered by this five-year-old boy, he has been safely reunited with his mother."

In a statement released by her official spokesman, Norman Brennan, Mrs Fergus said: "I have experienced every mother's worst nightmare and there is not a day that goes by when I don't think about James and what happened to him.

"I would not want any parent to go through what our family has and continues to go through."

The death of James Bulger horrified the nation. On 12 February 1993, the toddler was abducted by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson from a shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside. Close-circuit television footage, broadcast around the world, showed him being led away. The two boys walked him two miles, occasionally punching him, and eventually tortured and battered him to death on a railway close to their homes. The pair served eight years before being released and given secret new identities four years ago.

Anthony Hinchliffe was found by his 22-year-old cousin Tracey Jones in a distraught state near shops close to a wooded area behind Earlsheaton Medical Centre in Dewsbury. He was taken to hospital but released on Wednesday afternoon.

Edna Gray, 79, a neighbour, said Anthony, who she described as a "lovely boy" who had never wandered off before, was quiet and had obviously been crying when she saw him on Tuesday night. "He was looking a bit dazed and in a bad way. His mother looked mad and she went to call the police and an ambulance arrived soon afterwards."

The family said he told them he had been forced to leave by the older children and they had placed a rope around his neck and tried to tie him to a tree.

Miss Jones said the youngster, who was on half-term holiday from Chickenley Primary School, had been playing in the back garden, while his mother washed the dishes, when he disappeared.

Yesterday, officers centred their search on woodland some distance from the original crime scene.

At the park, which is located off Long Lane, policemen could be seen blocking off the main entrances to the woodland and a large number of marked police vehicles were visible.

Vehicles included a video van, a mobile unit and a Land Rover. Police revealed that a "number of items" had already been recovered from the rear of the medical centre, which backs on to parkland.

Paul Kane, the Kirklees councillor who represents the Dewsbury East ward where the alleged attack happened, conceded that there had been problems with teenagers in the local community and revealed a number had recently been handed antisocial behaviour orders. But the Labour councillor said the community was stunned by this latest news.

"There's a general feeling of shock but the mood is calm on the street. I don't think people are looking for revenge or vendetta."