- Questions emerged regarding their identity and whether they should be treated as juveniles
- Two young men are accused of being among a group who took turns to rape an ‘extremely vulnerable’ 18-year-old girl
- Immigration officials have judge one of the defendants is actually from Egypt
Two asylum seekers openly argued with a judge yesterday as they were accused of taking part in the gang rape of a schoolgirl.
The young men wept loudly, held their heads in their hands and gestured at the court as they protested their innocence.
Judge Charles Macdonald QC was forced to intervene because of the noise, telling them: ‘You will not speak in the dock.’
The pair are accused of being among a group of men who took turns to rape an ‘extremely vulnerable’ 18-year-old girl. The attack shocked veteran police officers in a Kent town where they were living as Syrian refugees in a taxpayer-funded hostel.
But their case quickly descended into chaos yesterday as questions emerged over exactly how old they are and whether they should be treated as juveniles.
Before one of the men could answer questions about his age on oath, he smashed his head into the wall of a cell during a break and was taken to hospital.
As a result neither of the men can be named under laws designed to protect the identities of juvenile defendants until a further hearing.
This is despite the fact that one of them is being held in an adult prison after magistrates ruled he is in fact 18.
The case concerns the appalling attack of a girl at the refugee hostel in Gillingham, Kent, on the night of Halloween.
She and a male friend met a group of young men in the street and were persuaded to go back to their home. But when she arrived she was allegedly dragged to an upstairs bedroom, stripped naked and repeatedly raped by up to four men as others watched.
She finally escaped after punching and headbutting the men as her friend ran into the street and persuaded a neighbour to intervene.
Both of the defendants in the dock at Maidstone Crown Court yesterday are asylum seekers who claim to be 17-year-old refugees from Syria.
But the court heard how immigration officials have judged that one of them is in fact from Egypt.
He faced deportation next month. Wearing jogging bottoms and sweatshirts, the two defendants appeared confused by the proceedings.
They are both represented by a barrister and a lawyer and an Arabic interpreter sat in between them throughout the 90-minute hearing.
A social worker from Kent County Council was also present in court, who explained that the pair have been repeatedly assessed by youth workers and immigration officials.
The age of the defendant who injured himself is recorded differently by police, the prisons and the courts – with his year of birth being either 1997 or 1998, the court heard.
POLICE 'GAG ON PRESS'
He was examined last year by experts who looked at his skin condition, muscle tone, language skills, voice and even whether he has an Adam’s apple. If their findings are followed he would now be 18.
Outlining the case, prosecutor Amanda Hamilton said the 18-year-old girl was with a 17-year-old schoolfriend in Gillingham when they met a group of ‘men or boys’.
‘They talked to them and the group invited them back to their terraced house in Gillingham,’ she said.
‘When the complainant was in the living room sitting on the sofa one of the men grabbed her arm and pulled her upstairs. He made her take off her clothing and the man undressed. While she was raped she asked him to stop.’
Mrs Hamilton described how the teenager was held for some time as three other men also raped her, goaded by a ‘ringleader’.
One of the men, who is being held at an adult prison, has no fixed address.
The second, who gave an address at a second hostel in Gravesend, is being held at a prison and remand centre for young people. Both face one charge of rape and were remanded in custody.
A third suspect is on bail as police inquiries continue.