When children show extreme violence against other children, questions are asked about what led them to such behaviour. Many will label these children as simply ‘evil’; others will label them as ‘troubled’ and in need of help. On 4 April 2009, two brothers aged 10 and 11 who have not been named due to their ages, led two young boys aged 9 and 11 onto wasteland in Edlington, South Yorkshire in England, and subjected them to 90 minutes of abuse and torture.

The prolonged attack involved repeated acts of violence and sexual acts to the extent that both victims were hospitalized with the older boy almost losing his life due to the severe injuries inflicted on him. Part of the attack was filmed by one brother on their mobile phone, video evidence which was used against them when the case came to court. It was an attack carried out by two children who had already seriously assaulted another young boy just one week earlier.

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The scene of the attacks in Edlington, South Yorkshire.

Edlington is a fairly small town of less than 10,000 occupants located in the district of Doncaster and unfortunately it has now became most associated with this case, one in which the national media picked up early. When the case came to court in 2010, the complete lack of remorse from the brothers was a shock to many. Both brothers claimed they did not intend to kill their victims just to hurt them and both pleaded guilty to charges of grievous bodily harm with intent. These boys, barely teenagers, were fully aware of what they had done and the severity of the injuries they caused to their victims, yet seemed entirely indifferent to their actions or the consequences they were now facing.

“You wanted to assert your dominance over them by the use of aggression, extreme violence and sexual degradation and inflicting pain in order to gain a sense of power and control over their lives.”

Sentencing the pair to at least five years of detention at Sheffield Crown Court the judge in their case highlighted how their lack of remorse was indicative of the future risk the two brothers posed to carry out further violent attacks. “The bottom line for the two of you is that you both pose a serious ricks of harm to others… the deliberate targeting of your victims, the prolonged attacks on them amounting to torture, the fact that there were two of you and there was more than one victim.  Your crimes are truly exceptional,” he told them.

The judge, Mr Justice Keith, told how their pre-sentence reports described one brother as ’emotionally detached, desensitised and lacking in empathy towards his victims’, and the other justifying his actions ‘with a degree of righteous indignation’ showing no empathy at all.

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The home life and childhood history of the two brothers were a significant factor in the case with Doncaster local children’s service’s admitting their failings in missing opportunities to appropriately address their risk and their behaviour. The brothers had been removed from their biological family due to long-term neglect and abuse suffered while with their parents, described in the serious case review report carried out by the Doncaster Safeguarding Children Board as, “many years of living in a chaotic and neglectful household with regular exposure to high levels of physical and verbal violence”.

The Secretary of State for Education at the time, Michael Gove felt this initial report was ‘insufficient’ and he instructed a full independent review of the case to be carried out by Lord Carlile CBE QC. Published in November 2012, it highlighted how various agencies and children’s services had been involved with this family for 14 years prior to the attack carried out by the brothers 2009 with violent outbursts on other children and their teachers featuring repeatedly within their history. Over 100 events and incidents had taken place involving the brothers and local services in the four years prior to the attack being carried out. “Over 100 events after the first, the two boys were out on the streets uncontrolled to the extent that they very nearly ended the life of a boy of their own age, in the context described by the Judge,” Lord Carlile noted in a direct statement to the failings of the department to intervene before the boys behaviour escalated.

“Prolonged, sadistic violence for no reason other than that you got a real kick out of hurting and humiliating them.”

The case now known simply as the ‘Edlington case’ raised memories of the horrific and prolonged murder of 2-year-old James Bulger in Newcastle, Merseyside, England in 1993, carried out by two 10-year-old boys to the horror of the nation. At the time they were the two youngest children to ever be charged with murder in English history.

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Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were bunking off school on 12 February 1993 when they snatched James from outside a butcher’s shop in the New Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle. They led the 2-year-old out of the shopping centre, through the town and down onto railway tracks just over 2 miles away and yards from a police station where they threw bricks at him and covered him in paint.  A pathologist, Dr Alan Williams testified during their trial that James Bulger had suffered a total of 42 injuries including ‘at least 30 blows’ before his body was left on the train tracks to be hit by a train.

Thompson and Venables were caught on CCTV leading James Bulger out of the shopping centre and along with a number of witnesses who saw them with the young child, there was no doubt who had carried out this murder. Due to the severity of the crime, the decision was made to charge the boys as adults and their names publicly released. Their court appearances were hounded by members of the public hurling abuse at the pair so outraged by what they had done.

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2-year-old James Bulger.

They were sentenced to be held in detention until they were at least 18 years old. Released in 2001, they were both given new identities under highly controversial circumstances in order to give them an opportunity to build a new life. Since then, while Robert Thompson has remained out of the public eye and out of trouble, Jon Venables has repeatedly revealed his real identity putting himself in great danger of assaults from the public and has been returned to custody after being found in possession of indecent images of children.

The brothers at the centre of the Edlington case were the product of a dysfunctional and abusive family, void of the expected love and support, boundaries and discipline within a home. As these boys grew they witnessed violence and substance abuse regularly while suffering abuse themselves at the hands of those who were supposed to love and care for them. Their own behaviour and actions in these horrific attacks were in no doubt linked to these experiences where the children have developed in an environment where such violence, harm and abuse are normal.

In 2016, they were granted indefinite anonymity by a high court judge ensuring their true identities will never be publicly revealed. The have now both been released from detention with new identities having the opportunity, under supervision, to rebuild their lives. For their victims, now aged 17 and 19, they have been left with lasting damage from these attacks carried out by boys their own age. As expressed by the judge who sentenced their attackers, “Their physical and emotional scars will live with them for a very long time to come.”