London, Jan. 4: A 19-year-old teenager, Abdul Miah, appeared in court today, charged with subjecting a girl of 15 to “a horrific ordeal” during which she was allegedly kidnapped and raped.
Rape cases are so common in the UK that the crime will not merit more than cursory coverage in the media — unless Miah’s Bangladeshi ethnicity and religion are played up. This will be more so if the victim turns out to be white. Miah, who is being held in Durham prison, appeared via a video link before Newcastle Crown Court during which he was charged with “rape, kidnap, false imprisonment, robbery, making threats to kill and possessing an offensive weapon”.
The charges arise from an incident involving the 15-year-old girl in Elswick, Newcastle. She cannot be named because she is underage and also victims of rape are given anonymity, as in India. No pleas were entered and Miah will remain in custody until another hearing in a fortnight when the court will seek to set a trial date. For reasons of comparison, it is worth noting the alleged rape took place on December 18 — only two days after the gang rape involving a 23-year-old paramedical student in Delhi. Although Indian law more or less follows the British legal system there are differences.
If one of the New Delhi rapists, who is below 18 years of age, were to appear before a British court, he would expect to face the full rigour of the law. Initially, he would not be named but if he were convicted and possibly even during the trial, it is more than likely the presiding judge would remove the cloak of anonymity.
Once charges had been laid, the media would be prevented from making any further comment on the case which would be treated as sub judice. However heinous the crime, lawyers would always be prepared to defend those charged.
And, as an important principle of justice being seen to be done, the press would not be excluded by the police or anyone else from covering the trial. A rape victim, killed during the assault, would be quickly identified – because her family would not be blamed that she had been raped.
In fact, during high profile trials, the court would probably make extra room for the media. It may be that certain aspects of the trial will be subject to reporting restrictions but these are always made clear by the judge.
There is nothing in British law which says that someone aged under 18 can be sent to prison or a young offenders’ institution for a maximum of three years.
Britain has got rid of the death penalty but in the rarest of rare cases, a life sentence can mean exactly that. Murder carries a mandatory life sentence but it is usual for a judge to set a “minimum tariff” before parole is considered – this can be up to 25 years.
Just as Indian is agonising now over the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi, in 1968 Britain was equally troubled when Mary Bell was convicted of killing two boys, Martin Brown, 4, and Brian Howe, aged 3. Mary, who had an angelic face, was 10 when she strangled Brown and 11 when she also strangled Howe.
Mary was found guilty of manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility. The judge, Justice Cusack, described her as “dangerous” and said she posed a “very grave risk to other children”. She was sentenced to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, effectively an indefinite sentence of imprisonment.
In 1980, Mary, aged 23, was released from an open prison, having served 12 years, and was granted anonymity (including a new name) allowing her to start a new life. Four years later she had a daughter, who did not know of her mother’s past until her location was discovered by reporters and she and her mother had to leave their house with bed sheets over their heads. In 2009, it was reported that Mary had become a grandmother. But all their identities are protected by law.
Just as troubling was the murder in February 1993 of two year old James Bulger who put his trust in two 10-year-old boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, whom he did not know. CCTV cameras in a shopping centre near Liverpool showed Bulger walking off hand in hand with Venables and Thompson.
The two boys then took great pleasure in torturing Bulger. They took Bulger to a disused railway line where they began by pouring thick paint into the little boy’s eyes. They then kicked and stomped on him, threw bricks and stones at him as though they were apprentice Taliban members. Batteries were inserted into Bulger’s mouth and anus. Finally, a 10kg iron was brought crashing down on Bulger’s head causing the two-year-old’s fragile skull to shatter in 10 places. In all, the victim sustained 42 injuries. Police said there was a sexual element to the crime.
Venables and Thompson were convicted of murder, the youngest in modern English history. They were sentenced to be held in custody till they were 18 but released on lifelong licence in June 2001. But in 2010 Venables was returned to prison for dabbling in child porn.
It so happens the Delhi gang rape, being horrific even by Indian standards, is making headlines in the British media, with some commentators using the crime as proof of the superiority of western culture and women. An Asian feminist group, the Southall Black Sisters, intends to hold a demonstration in front of India House on Monday — this is certain to get maximum coverage, thereby confirming the view that India basically remains a very backward country.