Schoolboys convicted of attempted rape of eight-year-old girl

Charities disappointed with outcome of 'doctors and nurses' trial
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The Independent Online

A pair of primary school boys yesterday became two of the youngest sex offenders in Britain after being found guilty of the attempted rape of an eight-year-old girl.

The boys, who are aged 10 and 11 and cannot be named, were convicted after a two-week trial at the Old Bailey during which the court heard how they had lured their victim to secluded spots near their homes in Hayes, west London.

They forced her to remove her underwear and tried to have sex with her. The defence claimed that the whole thing was simply childish sexual experimentation – "that age-old game, doctors and nurses".

But yesterday the jury disagreed. After little more than a day of deliberation they convicted the boys of attempted rape by a majority of 10 to two. They acquitted on the more serious charge of rape.

The boys, who sat next to their mothers in the well of the court – rather than in the dock – throughout the trial, showed no emotion as the verdicts were delivered. One looked at his mother, but she stared straight ahead. They will now have to sign the sex offenders register.

Mr Justice Saunders, the High Court judge who presided over the trial, said he would sentence the pair in eight weeks once reports have been prepared. He described the case as "difficult" and "traumatic". "These cases are not easy," he added. "Fortunately, they are infrequent."

The court had heard how the incident took place in October last year. The girl had been playing with her younger sister when she was taken to a block of flats and then a field by the boys.

The girl later told her mother that she had been sexually assaulted by the boys. In a police interview, played to the court, the girl holds her teddy bear Mr Happy as she tells officers: "They pulled their pants down and showed me their willies. Then they pulled my pants down. I didn't want to."

But, under cross-examination, the girl appeared to admit that she had invented the allegations because she knew she had been naughty and would not get any sweets if her mother found out.

The defence applied to have the case thrown out. The prosecution resisted, saying the girl had merely agreed to the scenarios put to her by the defence because she did not feel able to disagree. After a day of legal argument, the judge rejected the application saying that it was up to the jury to decide upon the evidence.

In her closing argument Rosina Cottage, for the prosecution, told the jury: "It would be so much easier and so much nicer to believe that this was all a case of innocent sexual experimentation: a game of 'If you show me yours I'll show you mine'.

"Just because it would be easier, just because we do not want to really have to consider these things really did happen is not the way to decide this. One has to look at the evidence, not the way we would like things to perhaps be."

The defence pointed out that there was no medical evidence which suggested the girl had been sexually assaulted, save from a scratch on her arm.

And while the boys did not give evidence, details about them were read out. The younger boy, known as Child A, had come to the attention of police once after a minor incident at school, but has no reprimands or cautions. Child B had never been in trouble with the police and the court heard a glowing report from his primary school teacher who said he was a "well-mannered and polite pupil". "He has never exhibited sexual behaviour towards other children," the report continued. "He has never exhibited any behaviour that has caused me any concern."

Children's charities and several lawyers expressed disappointment that children as young as 10 – the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales – are charged with such serious offences. During his police interview the younger of the boys told detectives that he did not even know what sex was.

Michele Elliott, director of the children's charity Kidscape, said: "Their young age and the young age of their victim makes it absurd that this took place in an adversarial court situation. It reflects horribly on our whole system."

The case has also drawn comparisons with the second trial involving the killers of Baby Peter concerning the rape of a two-year-old girl. That trial saw criticisms of how the victim was cross-examined.

Paul Mendelle QC defended the mother of Baby P, Tracey Connelly, and was tasked with questioning the young girl. Yesterday he told The Independent that the court system should be more accommodating to child witnesses. Courts could sit earlier, he suggested, and make better use of visual aids and intermediaries: "While it may be unpalatable and a break from the legal tradition, for difficult cases, such as ones involving child witnesses, we need to change the ways we test the evidence."

Felicity Gerry, a barrister and author of the Sexual Offences Handbook, questioned the decision to take children so young to court for a sexual offence. "A lot of children may know that to kill a three-year-old with an iron bar or to drop concrete on a child is wrong," she said. "But proper sexual awareness only comes with greater maturity."

The Crown Prosecution Service defended its decision. Alison Saunders, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS London, said: "The allegations made by the young girl were very serious. 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."