Page last updated at 11:54 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

'Toxic' home life of brutal brothers

By Danny Savage
BBC North of England Correspondent

Court sketch of Edlington defendants
The brothers showed a lack of remorse for their crimes from the outset

The vicious and brutal attack on two young boys in a South Yorkshire village last year shocked millions of people. The case had echoes of the murder of Jamie Bulger and was close to becoming a crime of equal notoriety.

One of the victims of the Edlington attack nearly died at the hands of two brothers who have shown no remorse for what they did. Our correspondent Danny Savage has followed events since the day police released details of the assault.

A potentially fatal attack carried out by children on children is horrifying enough.

But the level of violence shown by the brothers responsible towards their victims may well be unsurpassed in British criminal history.

The two victims of what was in simple terms prolonged torture, were playing in a skateboard park when they were approached by the two boys who were to change their lives forever.

The innocent nine-year-old and his 11-year-old friend were quickly intimidated by the other two children into following them to supposedly see a dead fox. But there was no dead animal.

It was a trick to get them away from prying eyes. Once out of the park they were told they were going to be killed.

Seconds later the threats were backed up with physical violence. At first it was a straightforward punch in the face but that was nothing compared to what followed.

The boys were dragged through a barbed wire fence to a secluded spot in a nearby field.

On the way they were robbed of their money and a phone and forced to eat nettles and dirt. Shards of glass from a broken beer bottle were held against their throats.

Attack filmed

The attack then became more serious. They were stamped on and bricks and stones were gathered to be thrown at their bodies.

Some were too heavy for the brothers to throw so they were just carried and dropped onto the two boys.

Many of the makeshift weapons used retained the blood of their victim and were presented in court to the judge one by one.

From the age of nine the older brother smoked cannabis and drank cider and the family home saw 'routine aggression, violence and chaos'

Perhaps most shocking of all, the attackers used the mobile phone belonging to one of their victims to film part of the attack.

This truly disturbing piece of evidence was shown to the court during the sentencing hearing.

It lasts just a few seconds but clearly shows the older boy lying on his back with his arms folded across his chest to protect himself. His face is unrecognisable because it is covered in blood.

His 10-year-old attacker can be seen taunting him and jabbing him with an object.

'Are you dying?'

People who knew the boys' family have told the BBC they used to sit at home watching horror films that many adults would flinch at.

Their court hearing was told the older boy had seen the gruesome Saw movies, the Chucky films and pornographic DVDs.

The horror films he saw often depicted mutilation and torture and in a field in South Yorkshire one Saturday afternoon last April, the two brothers made their own horror movie.

But that was just the early part of the attack. It went on and on. It included a sex assault, further degrading and humiliating the two bewildered young friends.

Their attackers moved them to an even more secluded location in a small ravine.

There an old clothes line was wound round the nine-year-old's neck and pulled tight. "Are you dying yet?" the older brother asked him.

The other boy then had a sink dropped on his head. In fact, given the number of things thrown directly at their heads during the attack it seems extraordinary that neither of them sustained serious brain injuries.

Psychopathic potential

Eventually their attackers left them to go and meet their father.

When asked later why they had stopped the torture the two brothers said it was only because their arms were aching, not because they suddenly realised how serious the injuries to their victims were.

The older brother was asked by detectives just how close he thought he and his brother had come to killing either of their victims on a scale of one to 10. He replied perhaps eight or nine. Their lack of remorse was apparent from the outset.

Playground in Edlington
The victims were lured away from a play area before being attacked

After being left wounded in the woods, the younger of the two victims staggered to some nearby houses to raise the alarm.

A short time later, as police and locals gathered to search for the 11-year-old who was still missing, officers were approached by the attackers and their father.

He said his sons had been with him and were not responsible for any attack. The two brothers just stood there and at no time volunteered any information about where their victim was lying.

A psychiatrist told the judge who sentenced the boys that the younger brother had shown no remorse for what he did or empathy towards the boys he attacked.

The expert added that even she had been intimidated by him as he "prowled" round the room they were sitting in, and that he had the potential to become a psychopath when he was older.

Another expert told the judge that the brothers home environment was "toxic".

Smoked cannabis

They often witnessed domestic violence and on one occasion they saw their father threatening to slash their mother's face.

From the age of nine the older brother smoked cannabis and drank cider and the family home saw "routine aggression, violence and chaos".

This was the only point where either of the boys showed any emotion in court.

The younger child had to be taken out because he was so upset about the public account of his family life.

Their criminal records were read out in court too. The older brother had a habit of hitting or headbutting teaching staff at the education centre he attended after being expelled from school.

As a result he already has several convictions. The younger has previously been reprimanded for assault.

Over the coming days, the disturbing circumstances the brothers grew up in will be further outlined and debated, along with the shortcomings of the social services who placed them with elderly foster carers in Edlington who had little chance of coping with them.

The victims are by all accounts making a good recovery - although their confidence in public has been affected by the trauma inflicted upon them.

A trauma that many people may well conclude could have been avoided if the problem brothers and their family had been tackled at an earlier date.

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