Schoolboys rape case triggers debate in Britain

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The conviction of two 10-year-old British schoolboys for the attempted rape of an eight-year-old girl triggered a debate Tuesday over judicial handling of such cases involving minors.

The boys, now aged 11 and 10, were found guilty Monday over the incident last October in west London, although their lawyers claimed they were just being naughty or playing a game.

Former director of public prosecutions Sir Ken Macdonald wrote in the Times newspaper that such cases risked "making fools of ourselves and worse, demons of damaged children".

"Put bluntly, we've been witnessing a spectacle that has no place in intelligent society," he wrote in the Times newspaper. "Very young children do not belong in adult criminal courts.

"They rarely belong in criminal courts at all," he added.

The girl was assaulted in a block of flats, a rubbish bin shed and a field in Hayes, west London. Her mother told the court she had found her daughter with the boys near a field after another child said the boys were hurting her.

In her police video interview, the girl, holding a teddy bear, said the boys offered to take her to her friend's home in the flats.

In the hallway, "they pulled their pants down", she said. "Then they pulled my pants down. I didn't want to and then they put me into the lift and then they done it again."

Defence lawyer Linda Strudwick had told the trial: "What this case is about is not a serious crime. It is about children. There is a game called 'You show me yours and I will show you mine'."

Michele Elliott of children's charity Kidscape said it was wrong to have brought the case to court.

"Obviously if these boys did something they need help. Their young age and the young age of their victim makes it absurd that this took place in an adversarial court situation," he said.

"I think it reflects horribly on our whole system, that a case like this with children should be tried in this way. It should have been held in camera with no publicity at all.

"The whole thing is horrific, all the way along," he added.

Both boys were ordered to sign the national sex offenders register, making them Britain's youngest sex offenders. The register lists paedophiles and rapists whose contact with children and vulnerable people is controlled.

If the boys had been younger than 10, they would have been too young to be charged. The youngest person convicted of rape is thought to be 12.

© 2010 AFP

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