A judge has hit back at critics of the trial of two boys who tried to rape an eight-year-old girl as he sentenced them each to three-year supervision orders.
Mr Justice Saunders said the ordeal of their young victim must not be forgotten and told those commenting on the case: "Hindsight is a wonderful thing."
The boys were aged 10 last October when the girl told their mother that she had been assaulted in Hayes, west London. They were found guilty of two charges of attempted rape by a 10-2 majority at the end of an Old Bailey trial but cleared of rape.
The court heard the boys lured the girl into some flats, then took her into a stairwell, a lift and a bin shed before continuing their assault in a field. At one point, the girl told the court, they threw her scooter into a bush and refused to retrieve it unless she did what they told her.
Jurors rejected defence claims that the boys - one of whom was described as a model pupil by his teacher - had just been naughty or playing a game like doctors and nurses. But after the verdicts, critics said the handling of the case was "absolutely wrong" and a Court of Appeal judge expressed "dismay" at the circumstances. Following the sentence, the NSPCC said the Government should now review the age of criminal responsibility.
Now both aged 11, the boys were told in advance of the hearing, through their lawyers, that they would not face custody, after the judge saw a report saying they were worried about being locked up. They chatted excitedly as they were brought into court with their mothers and solicitors through a side door, though a barrister for one of the boys claimed the youngster had found the surroundings of the Old Bailey "daunting".
As in their trial, the judge and lawyers dispensed with wigs and gowns and the young defendants were allowed to sit in the well of the court instead of the dock, while the judge sat in a lower position than normal, at the clerk's bench.
He told the boys: "The jury decided that you did something very wrong which, if you had been older, would have very serious consequences for you. But you are very young, and while I do not accept that what happened was a game, I do accept that you did not realise how serious what you were doing was. Because you are so young the court is mainly concerned with doing what is best for you with the aim of ensuring that you do not do anything like this again."
He said they must be helped to understand how serious what they did was, with the help of social workers to "train, guide and educate" them. Any custodial sentence would be "counter-productive". Their three-year supervision order was coupled with a 12-month parenting order and the boys were placed on the sex offenders' register for two and a half years.
The judge said: "It may sound from all this that I am forgetting the little girl involved. I do not. Everyone will sympathise with her for what she has gone through. Not only what happened to her as the victim of these offences, but also to have to give evidence about them. I hope that she will be given all the help that she undoubtedly deserves to get over her experiences. I very much hope that she and her family will not be forgotten by the authorities."