Tiny and scared: the Old Bailey's youngest witness

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The Independent Online

As the young girl's face beamed into the courtroom via a television screen, formalities at the Old Bailey were dispensed with. Off came the judge's horse-hair wig and the barristers, normally used to being referred to as "my learned friend", became simply Bernard, Sally and Paul.

The youngest sexual assault victim to give evidence in the Bailey, a four-year-old who cannot be named, began her testimony with a pre-recorded video in which she told a police officer, Kate Bridger, how the man in the dock had raped her when she was two years old.

In the 27-minute video, she explained that the defendant "hurt me" – the only words the child could find to describe the attack. Asked how many times she said "three times".

Struggling to concentrate, or to sit still on a chair, the child moved to the floor and much of the conversation centred around her favourite hairband and even included games of hide and seek. But, when the questioning returned to the alleged offences, she provided a heartbreaking narrative: "I was asleep and he woke me up ... he was being naughty ... he pulled his clothes down."

She then explained to Ms Bridger – who she called Curly Kate because of her frizzy hair – that the woman had walked in during the attack. Asked to describe how the woman had reacted, the girl wagged her finger and said: "she said 'don't do that'."

Back in court, the job of cross-examination of the girl fell firstly to Bernard Richmond QC. As he tentatively asked questions from his seat in Court 8, the girl sat at a desk in a video suite elsewhere in the building. She was initially happy to answer questions: "What do you do when you are happy?" he asked. She responded: "I play with my friends."

She confirmed she knew the difference between a lie and the truth but looked perplexed when asked "What is truth?" by the barrister. She shrugged. The girl became less co-operative when the conversation turned to the alleged offences. First the barrister asked if she had ever told any fibs; she shook her head. Further questioning produced more head shakes and nods. Then, as he asked his crucial question, even the non-verbal communication stopped.

"He did not touch you with his willy, did he?" Mr Richmond asked. The response was four minutes of silence.

With the child refusing to answer the questions, Mr Richmond, noting from the girl's constant eye-rubbing and yawning that she may be tired, suggested she stretch her legs.

And so the tiny girl with brown shoulder-length hair climbed out of her seat and walked around the room. Back at her desk she took two deep breaths, as instructed, and the questioning began again.

Again the answers were nods and shakes of the head. Mr Richmond told the court he had no further questions. Paul Mandelle QC took over and asked the child if she hated the man who had raped her: "Yeah" she replied.

After an overnight break the girl returned to face questions from the prosecuting barrister, Sally O'Neill. Again she refused to discuss the rape allegations, preferring to stay silent.

But she did provide some telling testimony with the answer to her final question: "Was what you told Curly Kate a fib or the truth?" Ms O'Neill asked the child.

"The truth," she replied.