Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Victims of Society ( or Just Plain Bad?

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Victims of Society ( or Just Plain Bad?

Article excerpt

An eight-year-old boy is stripped naked, punched in the face, threatened with a knife and smothered with a pillow. His attackers are two schoolgirls, aged 11 and 14. The case shocked the region when details emerged in court last week, and after the boy's mother spoke exclusively about his ordeal to The Journal. Today Liz Hands speaks to leading criminologist Dr Sheila Brown about what could lead two young girls to commit such a chilling offence.

The girls and their victim lived just a few doors from each other in the close-knit community of Easington Colliery, County Durham.

A former pit district, Easington is ranked as the sixth most deprived area in the country, the worst in the North-East.

It has extreme levels of poor health, social isolation, poverty and low educational attainment. Out of every 1,000 15 to 17-year-old girls, 59 get pregnant, compared to an average in England of 42.

A third of the Easington population has no qualifications, compared to 18% in the North-East and 15% in Great Britain, a third have a long-term illness and death rates from cancer and heart disease are high.

It is against this backdrop, on May 1, 2005, that two girls, an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old, entice an eight-year-old boy to their home before committing a crime which a judge said could "only be described as torture".

It is within this community that Dr Brown, a criminologist at Sunderland University, believes the two girls could have experienced something in their lives which has led them to take the kind of teasing or bullying often experienced in the playground a terrible step further. "There's nothing new in children tormenting other children," said Dr Brown, who joined Sunderland University in 2005 after carrying out research on murder cases for a major metropolitan police force.

"It's not surprising two big girls have decided to bully an eight-year-old boy. It's that 'you show me yours and I'll show you mine mentality'.

"But what we're talking about here went much further. This boy was fearful for his life. They have taken childhood exploration to such an extreme that you have to ask questions about their psychological circumstances, whether there is something disturbing in their past that has led to them to believe it is acceptable to perform such violence."

The two were sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court on August 4 ( the younger girl, now 13, who had already served the equivalent of a 12-month custodial sentence while on remand, to 12 months detention and the older one, now 15 to a 10-month detention and training order.

They pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and assault.

The court heard they had stripped the boy naked, slapped him in the face, held a knife to his neck and private parts, asked a toddler if he wanted to stab him and smothered him with a pillow, telling him "Try not to die". …

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