Page last updated at 21:09 GMT, Friday, 19 March 2010

How Norway dealt with its 'Bulger' case

By Ray Furlong
BBC Radio 4's PM programme

Beate Redergard
Beate says she stands by the way the boys were treated

A Norwegian woman whose child was killed by two six-year-old boys is still glad they were not punished or removed from their families - but says 16 years on, she lives in fear of one of them.

The story has sometimes been compared to the James Bulger case in Britain, which saw two 10-year-olds take two-year-old James from a Merseyside shopping centre and murder him on a railway line.

But when five-year-old Silje Redergard was beaten and left to freeze to death by her attackers in October 1994 there was no dramatic trial.

The boys were left with their families, helped by psychiatrists and social workers. And the newspapers dropped the story.

For some, it illustrated how a progressive Norway was able to handle a child killing in a more mature way than Britain. Even the girl's mother, Beate, said she agreed to the lack of punishment.

But now, in her first broadcast interview for 10 years, she has a different perspective.

"Today I am angry, very angry. They have done things to hurt my children in the last three years. They have threatened them with violence," she says - referring in fact to only one of the boys who killed her daughter.

"We have found out that he's living in Trondheim. I haven't seen him and I hope I never will."

Memory repressed

Beate is clearly traumatised. But despite the way Silje's killer has come back to haunt her, she insists she stands by Norway's way of doing things.

"I still think that he was so little then that he didn't perhaps know that it was bad to do it," she says.

Trondheim is a quiet town on Norway's North Sea coast. The top story in the local paper is that heavy snowfall has disrupted traffic.

So you would expect Silje's story to be vividly remembered - but nearly everyone asked about it, even a woman whose daughter was six at the time, says they can not recall the case.

It almost seems as if the town has collectively repressed a traumatic memory.

Many people in the town say they cannot remember the case

The scene of the killing was a snow-covered housing estate on the edge of town, with kids sledging down a hill.

Tor Bordo, a journalist who covered the story for Norway's top-selling tabloid VG, revisits the site for the first time.

"I've covered hundreds of murders," he says, "but this was the only one where I couldn't sleep afterwards."

Tor, like the rest of Norway's journalists, decided to hold back from the story after a few days.

"We interviewed the parents, and we told the parents of the boys they could speak to us if they liked. But they chose not to," he says.

Did he not he feel the media had a duty to report more on the case?

"No, I think it's more important the boys were given a chance to recover, to have a normal life later on."

Interestingly, Tor says there may have also been commercial reasons. "If you cross the line, if you go too far on a story like this, sales of the paper might drop," he says.

'Playing around'

Back in town, and by pure chance, Silje's father, Geir Roar Storneth, now Beate's ex-husband, is standing outside a shop.

Like Beate, he is clearly carrying the trauma with him, even if the rest of the town has moved on.

"I've had psychological problems ever since. Depression. It goes up and down. But I got no help afterwards. I was left to my own devices," he says.

But he also said the boys had been too young to remove from their families.

"They were so small, they were playing around," he says, pulling on a roll-up. His voice trails off and he shrugs his shoulders in a gesture that speaks of resignation.

So would the authorities handle a case like this any differently today? Probably not.

He's supposed to be rehabilitated but it doesn't seem like that to me
Beate Redergard

At the offices of the child protection services, Aase Prytz-Sloettemen has a thick file of yellowed newspaper clippings from the time of the killing.

For many years after, Aase was responsible for the care of the boys who killed Silje. But she can only talk in general terms about what the Norwegian approach is.

Social workers and child psychologists accompany them in class for a while, for the safety of the other children. There is lots of counselling, lasting months or years, before this is relaxed and the extra personnel are pulled out.

"When they do things at an early age, we will try to make it as normal as possible, so they should go to school and do all the things ordinary children do," she says.

"Norwegian society in most cases will think that a child should be treated as a child, even if it's done something very wrong."

Citing confidentiality, Aase cannot say what counselling the boys received, for how long, or how they responded. For Beate, these are crucial questions.

"He's supposed to be rehabilitated but it doesn't seem like that to me. I don't want to go to the city because I'm afraid to meet him. Even my son, who is 17, doesn't want to go to the city alone," she says.

"All of my family is suffering. I don't think we've had the same help the boys have had. I have to say that I feel like the criminal today - not the two boys."

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