Two young brothers who tortured and sexually abused a pair of children came from a family who had been known to social services for 14 years and their attack could have been prevented, officials admitted today.
Sentencing the boys to a minimum of five years detention the judge Mr Justice Keith told them that their 90-minute attack was “prolonged and sadistic” but admitted that their “toxic” and “dysfunctional” family had contributed to their behaviour.
Tonight Doncaster social services, where seven children known to the department have died since 2004, released a report which admitted that the attack was “preventable”.
But Nick Jarman, interim director of Doncaster's social services, confirmed later that only one person had faced disciplinary action so far.
Children’s Secretary Ed Balls said that the Government would learn lessons from the case. But the Conservative leader David Cameron said that the case highlighted “what is going wrong in our wider society”.
The boys showed no emotion as the judge recounted their “sadistic” attack. But as they were led from court they were subjected to a torrent of abuse from the mother of their youngest victim, who was just nine when he was attacked by the pair.
The tearful woman leapt from her seat in the public gallery, banged on a glass partition separating her from the brothers and screamed: “You evil bastards, evil little bastards. I hope someone does that to you, you fucking arseholes.”
The brothers, who the judge ruled can never be named in connection with the attacks, were rushed from court. They will be eligible for release after five years, which, due to their time spent on remand, will be in spring 2014. But, because they are indeterminate sentences, they will only be released when experts and professionals believe they are no longer a danger to the public.
They will serve their sentences in a secure local authority unit before being transferred to a Young Offenders’ Institute when they turn 14.
Sentencing the boys Mr Justice Keith, told them their crimes were “truly exceptional”.
He said: “This was prolonged, sadistic violence for no reason other than that you got a real kick out of hurting and humiliating them. Their physical and emotional will live with them for a long time to come.
“The fact that you could not care less about what happened to [the victims] is itself a strong indicator that you harm people simply because you want to.”
The families of the two boys assaulted released a short statement after the sentences. It said: “These terrible events rocked our lives. We have found the last nine months to have been an extremely difficult and testing time.
“Hearing the evidence in court these past three days has also been deeply upsetting for us all. However we would like to thank everyone involved in providing support to us during this time.”
Over two days Sheffield Crown Court heard in detail how the brothers lured their two victims, who were aged 11 and nine, to secluded woodland and tortured them for 90 minutes in Edlington, south Yorkshire, in April last year, before leaving them for dead.
The court was told that during the assaults the victims were attacked with bricks and sticks. At one point the eldest victim had part of a sink dropped on his head. Then they were forced to engage in sexual acts with each other. One managed to escape, but the other had to be airlifted to hospital.
The brothers, who each had previous offences, had previously pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm with intent, robbery and forcing children to engage in sexual acts.
They had only been in Edlington for three weeks having been there placed in foster care. That Saturday morning they were due to be interviewed by the police for a near identical attack they carried out on another 11-year-old boy the previous weekend. In court they also pleaded guilty to that attack
Addressing the older boy the judge, quoting from a pre-sentencing report, the judge said: “You used aggression, extreme violence and sexual degradation targeted to inflict maximum pain in order to gain a sense of power and control over their [the victims] lives.”
He told the younger boy that he had a “wish to control your victims by domination, degradation and inflicting pain for the purpose of your own emotional pleasure”
He added: “The bottom line is that I am sure that both of you pose a very high risk of serious harm to others.”
As the sentences were read out the family members in the public gallery sobbed and shook their heads. Addressing them, the judge added: “I want them to know that I have taken into account the devastating effect that all of this has had on their lives and on the lives of the three boys.
“I have no doubt that they would have preferred to see [the brothers] locked up for very much longer, and I know that nothing can compare with the trauma which the boys went through. But I hope that they will appreciate that five years is the very least which [the brothers] will serve. They may well be in detention for much longer than that.”
After the court hearing, Doncaster Safeguarding Children Board released a review of the case. It said that the brothers’ family had been known to the authorities but that Children’s social care services were “reluctant” to get involved.
The board's chairman Roger Thompson said: “The review has concluded there were serious failings in local services, and the Executive Summary report has indicated that the assault was a preventable incident.”
The Edlington case brought immediate comparisons with the murder of James Bulger, committed by 10-year-old friends Robert Thompson and John Venables in 1993.
But, worryingly, joins other recent high-profile cases such as those of Peter Connelly and Victoria Climbie, where errors have been made by social. While this case is different in that the perpetrators rather than the victims were those known to social services, it has attracted similar criticism.
Children’s Secretary Ed Balls promised the Government would “learn lessons from the case: “So that in future we don't have a repeat of such a terrible, unusual and horrific case.”
But the Conservative leader David Cameron added: “Are we just going to say this is an individual case? That there aren’t any links to what is going wrong in our wider society, in terms of family breakdown, in terms of drug and alcohol abuse, in terms of violent videos, in terms of many of the things that were going wrong in that particular family?
“I think we should ask these questions. Do we have a problem in Britain with violent crime? Do we have a problem with some aspects of what's going on in childhood? Do we have a problem with our care system? Yes, we do.”
Interim director of Doncaster's social services Nick Jarman confirmed that only one person had faced disciplinary action so far as a result of this case.
But Mr Jarman conceded there were serious problems at Doncaster social services, where seven children known to the authority have died since 2004. He said he came to Doncaster in April last year and found “an organisation which was totally broken”.