Recently in our house we have been watching the HBO series The Wire. When I say watching I should say gripped or even addicted given the subject matter. Ever since I saw creator David Simon talking about his idea on the Culture Show and I decided to give the series a chance, I have admired the way it gets to grips with the dirty side of everyday reality. I have even thought how distant it was from our comfortable lives here in the UK. Then a story like this comes along which I read in Saturday’s Guardian. I felt sad. I felt this is life, like in the Wire, with the place names changed.
A judge ordered yesterday that seven teenagers who gang raped a 14-year-old girl in a brutal “punishment” attack should be identified in a bid to deter other young men from similar crimes.
Judge Wendy Joseph QC warned the defendants, some of whom were as young as 13 at the time of the incident, that they faced jail sentences for the attack in Hackney, east London, as the court heard that the victim been driven to attempt to kill herself.
She was singled out because she had insulted the leader of a local gang, the Kingzhold Boys, the prosecutor, Nicola Merrick, said. She was dragged by her hair between a succession of tower block stairwells and landings in an ordeal that lasted around an hour and a half.
She was taunted, hit, threatened and orally raped by an ever-growing crowd of teenagers summoned to the scenes by mobile phone. By the time they reached the final scene, 15 boys were present. Some of the attacks were filmed on phones and shown to others later that night.
Merrick asked for the order which usually bans the identification of juvenile defendants to be lifted. “Those young people who become members of gangs, should know the outcome of this trial, that they will not mete out punishments as a gang with impunity and not ultimately retain their anonymity.” The judge lifted the order after hearing the crown argue that the community and public should know what had happened. “Naming and shaming is something this procedure is not designed for,” Joseph said. “That’s different from deterring others.”
She left the order in place in relation to two others who were also convicted of rape because they were part of the gang, but did not actually assault the girl.
The seven who can be named are: O’Neil Denton, 16, the leader of the gang; Weiled Ibraham, 17; Yusuf Raymond, 16, and Jayden Ryan, 16, who were all convicted of rape, kidnap and false imprisonment, and Alexander Vanderpuije, 15; Jack Bartle, 16; and Cleon Brown, 15, all convicted of rape and false imprisonment. Denton, Ibraham and Raymond had all pleaded guilty.
The two who cannot be named are now aged 14 and 16. They will all be sentenced on Monday.
Reading from a victim impact statement, Merrick told the court the victim said her life had been turned upside down. She now lived in a police safe house out of the area and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The girl said in the statement: “I feel like a prisoner, having to look over my shoulder everywhere I go. I used to find the unexpected fun. Now the unexpected is frightening and not exciting like it used to be.”
She also blamed herself for not doing more to resist the attacks by screaming and fighting back, but was frozen with fear, the court heard.
The court heard the victim had told the girlfriend of Denton, who was known by the nickname Hitman, she thought he was a “tramp”. After the girlfriend passed this on to him, he threatened the victim on the phone and in the street, scaring her so much she went to stay with her grandmother out of the area.
But on the day she returned, April 30 2007, Denton was waiting with Ibrahim, Raymond and Ryan and the rape began. At one point, she spotted someone she had known for years: a friend. But as she turned to Cleon Brown he looked her in the eye and said: “I can’t help you now, I’m with my boys.” Soon afterwards he too raped her.
After the boys were convicted, Detective Constable Jonathan Burks, who led the investigation, said the boys were trying to impress older men. “You have the elder gang members who run the gang and the younger ones who will try to emulate the elders, and do what they’re told,” he said.
On the rundown estates, where everyone’s business is public, threats and incidents of intimidation were rife in the run-up to the trial. One witness has been moved out of the area and others have had panic buttons connected to police installed. Several people who saw parts of the attack refused to give evidence, put off by the fear of reprisals. Before the boys were charged, the victim was intimidated verbally and via texts and MSN messages, police said.
The family says a car someone thought belonged to her stepfather was smashed up and the gang’s name was penned above the lift entrance where she was last attacked.
In the end it was another boy who had come to see what all the fuss was about who stepped in to end her torment. Even then the other boys tried to hold him back, but he managed to grab her clothes and phone and escort her out, closely followed by the gang.
Back at the entrance to the block her stepfather, alerted to the situation by girls who knew she had been taken, was waiting angrily. The commotion that ensued swiftly attracted the attention of uniformed police who were searching nearby on an unrelated matter.
Had they not been on the scene anyway, it is possible the attack would never have been reported, detectives said. The suspects were rounded up within two days thanks to CCTV footage, on which officers were able to identify well-known faces.
Police said the defendants had seemed shocked at being found guilty. “I can only assume they never thought this would get this far,” said Burks, who led the case. “There’s been no remorse shown by anybody.”
The victim was determined not to let the attack “destroy her life”, Merrick said.
But putting the attack behind her would be a “mammoth task”. “She refers to herself as still in a state. I suspect that is an understatement.”
Guilty of rape, kidnap and false imprisonment
O’Neil Denton, 16, leader of the gang; Weiled Ibraham, 17; Yusuf Raymond, 16; Jayden Ryan, 16
Guilty of rape and false imprisonment
Alexander Vanderpuije, 15; Jack Bartle, 16; Cleon Brown, 15