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1998: Four pupils go on trial for sex attack
Court proceedings have begun against two 10-year-old boys who are accused of raping a young girl in a school lavatory.

The pair along with her cousin, now aged 11, and another boy, aged 10, are also charged with indecent assault. All four deny the charges against their classmate.

A fifth boy, aged nine at the time of the incident was also allegedly involved, but is too young to be prosecuted for rape under the current law.

The judge and barristers removed their wigs, the defendants sat with their parents in the well of the court and the clerk addressed them by their first names to create a "relaxed atmosphere" in what is the youngest ever rape trial in British criminal history.

The alleged victim, who was nine at the time of the incident last May, broke down as she gave evidence via a video link at the Old Bailey.

She told the court that she was attacked at a London school during the lunch-break.

One of the boys took her coat and she chased him into the outside toilet.

The young girl, who came to Britain from Jamaica four years ago and lives with her mother and eight brothers and sisters in the Shepherds Bush area of west London, found the other boys waiting in the toilet.

She said they dragged her into a cubicle, stripped and sexually assaulted her.

The girl struggled in vain to fight off the boys, who tied a coat over her mouth to muffle her screams.

She started to cry as she revealed how she had been forced to the ground and raped by three of the boys, while the others looked on and laughed at her.

Afterwards the girl said her attackers had threatened to beat her if she told a teacher what had happened.

That afternoon she returned to her lessons, not having told anyone of the incident because she was too scared.

After school, the girl returned home with her cousin, who stayed the night at her house.

The court was told that the boy "shadowed" her as she tried to tell her mother what had happened. The girl added: "He followed me when I was going to tell my mum."

She eventually told her mother that some boys had told her to strip, but did not say any more after she was criticised for not standing up to them.

The girl asked to stay at home the next day but her mother made her go to school, although she did write a note to the headmistress asking her to investigate her daughter's claims.

The headmistress interviewed the boys and when one of them admitted touching her, the police were called in.

All five boys were later arrested.

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Scales of justice
The court heard that the alleged attack took place during lunch-break

In Context
During the trial it emerged that the young girl had been sexually abused by men in Jamaica before she moved to Britain.

The two 10-year-olds accused of rape were eventually cleared by a jury who returned not guilty verdicts on the direction of the judge.

Mrs Justice Bracewell said there was "a fundamental flaw" in the evidence in relation to the allegation of rape.

She told the court that when the girl was interviewed and video- recorded by the police she did not make any allegation of rape.

Mrs Bracewell said the police woman asked a leading question which, in effect, put words into the girl's mouth and the charges were dropped as a result.

The charges of indecent assault against all four boys were also later dropped.

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