Ana Kriégel murder: What next for Irish youth justice?

By Amy Stewart

Image source, Family
Image caption,
Ana was a keen dancer and singer, often posting videos of her performances on YouTube

It is a case that will haunt Ireland for years to come.

Two teenage boys, known only as Boy A and Boy B, have been sentenced for murdering another child.

That child was Ana Kriégel. A talented 14-year-old schoolgirl who, by all accounts, just wanted to have friends.

She was found dead in May 2018, in an abandoned house in Dublin, where she had been taken by one of the boys.

Her brutal killing shook Ireland to its core - because her killers were just 13 years of age.

Now 15, after a six-week trial, in June they became the youngest people in Irish history to be convicted of murder.

Boy B was sentenced to 15 years detention, with a review after eight years.

It is a case which is unprecedented.

The age of both the perpetrators and victim sparked intense public outrage and debate.

Who was Ana Kriégel?

Ana was born in Russia in February 2004, and at the age of two was adopted by Irish woman Geraldine Kriégel and her French-born husband, Patric, who lived in Lucan, Dublin.

Her mother has said it had been the happiest day of their lives when they were allowed to adopt her.

Image source, Press Association/ Family Handout
Image caption,
Ana Kriégel's parents said she was "just a little girl with so many hopes and dreams"

She was a keen dancer and singer, practising for hours in her bedroom and often posting videos of her dancing on YouTube.

She was, in many ways, a typical teenage girl who loved to listen to music and use her various social media accounts.

At 5ft 8in (1.7m), she was tall and strong - a good swimmer and gymnast.

But she also suffered horrific bullying and was targeted on social media in the months leading up to her death.

What do we know about her killers?

Criminal defence barrister for the eastern circuit and Dublin, Irene Sands, says Ana's teenage killers "weren't giving off stereotypical red flags".

She said aside from the obvious horrific details of the case - the case struck a chord with "middle-class Ireland".

Image source, Brian Lawless/PA

"Most people felt that Ana could be their daughter, sister or classmate in school," she says.

However, many people also felt the boys could have been their sons, brothers or next door neighbours, she feels.

They could have been anyone.

"It was two boys from good homes and decent families, no concerning background, no gardaí (Irish police) attention."

It seemed, they weren't so-called "typical troubled teens", she says.

"One of the boys was the first remanded in custody in Ireland to ask for Lego," she adds.

"It reminds you of the fact that they were 13 - they're actually little boys - they're so young."

How did police handle the case?

Irish police have been praised for their approach to the investigation.

"The guards handled it particularly well," says Ms Sands.

The Children Act 2001 is what sets the parameters within which police in Ireland have to operate when they deal with juvenile offenders.

She says they went "over and above to comply with the act in terms of how they interacted with the offenders".

Image source, Brian Lawless/PA
Image caption,
Ana's parents Geraldine and Patric Kriégel hugged and wept in court when the verdict was delivered

"It is self-evident that in terms of the evidence gathered - very little was deemed inadmissible," she said.

"That's the best evidence in terms of how good a job the gardaí did.

"None of it was deemed inadmissible because of any wrongdoing by the guards, including their interviews."

Did pornography play a role?

Ms Sands believes one of the major talking points to come out of the trial was not heard by the jury.

It was revealed in court that Boy A had searched online for "child porn" and "animal porn" and had thousands of pornographic images on two mobile phones.

The judge refused to allow the prosecution to include this evidence as he said it was "highly prejudicial".

"All this was inadmissible to the jury," says Ms Sands.

"But the accessibility of pornography to teenagers has become a huge issue".

The issue came up for discussion in the Dáil (Irish parliament).

The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar, has said the government would monitor a UK-plan to restrict access to pornography.

In the UK, an age-check scheme designed to stop under-18s viewing pornographic websites was due to come into force but has since been dropped.

Can anonymity be guaranteed?

Under Irish law, Boy A and B are entitled to anonymity.

The Children Act prohibits identification of minors accused or convicted of a crime and the boys' identities will remain protected even after they turn 18.

They will never be named.

Image source, Brian Lawless/PA
Image caption,
Geraldine and Patric Kriégel plant a tree in Ana's memory

But what happens when enshrined law meets modern technology?

Pictures and names of the boys have appeared on social media.

In July, the Central Criminal Court ordered Facebook and Twitter to remove any photographs or any other material identifying the two boys.

A journalist was fined €2,500 (£2,156) after he named one of the boys during a live radio broadcast and the radio station was fined €10,000 (£8,625).

Regardless of court orders though, once a name or picture has been seen or heard is the damage done?

Image source, Family
Image caption,
Ana's parents described her as a happy child and a "dream come true"

Youth justice criminologist Prof Phil Scraton, from Queen's University Belfast, says social media must not inform any judicial decisions.

"Social media is there and we have to deal with it but we should never make any decisions around it."

Ms Sands says while anonymity is an important principle, it is in practice, difficult.

"Ireland is a postage stamp and it's likely their local communities know who they were," she adds.

Media caption,
Patric Kriégel: "Forever is not long enough"

"They were at school one minute, then missing for two months," she adds.

She says while the anonymity the act is serving to protect is, in theory, well intended there are "practicalities" that must be considered.

"When you have only one detention centre in Ireland and you have two juveniles arriving in it, the reality of protecting anonymity is difficult and unrealistic," she says.

When can a child become a criminal?

The case throws up important questions about age and responsibility.

In the Republic of Ireland the age of criminal responsibility is 12 but a child over the age of 10 can be charged with more serious offences such as murder, manslaughter, rape and aggravated sexual assault.

In Northern Ireland it is 10. The Youth Justice Review team says it should be raised to 12, with a view to considering raising it to 14.

In England and Wales it is 10 and has been increased from eight to 12 in Scotland.

Prof Scraton says he believes with such a low age of criminal responsibility, we are "in danger of criminalising children early".

He has done extensive research on the marginalisation and criminalisation of children and young people.

He worked on the James Bulger case, which was widely considered to have been a turning point for youth justice in the UK.

The European Court of Human Rights found his killers, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, both tried in public in an adult court, did not get a fair trial.

Arguably, Ana's murder has revived memories of that case in Irish society.

'Period of transition'

Prof Scraton says there is a "contradiction at the heart of this discussion".

That contradiction, he believes, is the age at which children are held to criminal account versus the age at which they are given rights in society.

It's an age he believes, that both in the UK and Ireland, is too young.

"Childhood is a period of transition," he says.

"In a whole range of other areas of our lives we map that transition according to age and the age we usually agree on is 15 to 18.

"Then we agree - they can do things like get married, vote, drive and drink alcohol in public places.

"We make an exception in one case and that is the age of criminal responsibility.

"In this one area we are saying they have full adult capacity when they're much younger - a ridiculous contradiction."

What should the boys' sentences be about?

Prof Scraton says while children do not have what we would consider "full adult capacity" this does not, he says, mean we should not do anything.

"I think it's really important that we do intervene but intervene appropriately," he says.

"That is what happens for example in Scandinavian countries where there will be work done with that child to ensure they understand what they have done".

When he worked in Sweden and Norway "as soon as it was found they were children there was a moratorium on reporting", he says.

In Scandinavia, the age of criminal responsibility is 15.

But is the public mood out of step with what researchers like him think?

Many people on social media have called for the boys to be locked up for life.

After sentencing, Drogheda-based barrister Sarah Jane Judge told RTÉ the court was faced with the question: "How do we vindicate the life of this little girl who was so violently killed while also accounting for the fact that they (her killers) are children themselves?"

What happens next?

The two 15-year-olds have been in detention since their convictions in July.

As juveniles, they will go to Oberstown Children Detention Campus in north County Dublin.

Image source, RTE
Image caption,
Oberstown in north County Dublin is the only detention centre in Ireland

Section 96 of the Children Act sets out that any period of detention should be "imposed only as a measure of last resort".

Ms Sands explains the focus will be on rehabilitation and ultimate reintegration into society much more so than it would be in an adult prison.

"The services provided in Oberstown are excellent. They have a view to equipping the children as best they can for when they come out and have to ultimately reintegrate," she said.

"There is a lot of victim impact work that is done - victim empathy and awareness. There is a lot of intervention work done."

If the period of detention extends beyond the child turning 18, the Minister for Children and Youth Justice can authorise the transfer to a place of detention or prison.

In terms of their release, that is a matter for governors and minister for justice but the review period is fixed by the court.

In sentencing the boys, the judge told them: "You have the opportunity for a second chance... something you so wrongfully and cruelly denied to Ana Kriégel."

But he said sentences must be proportionate not only to the crime but to the offender. Children must be treated differently from adults, he said, and age was a substantial mitigating factor.

How will Ana Kriégel be remembered?

Since her death, there has been a public outpouring of grief.

Image source, Family Handout/RTE Prime Time

Her parents told the court they had been "broken" since she was murdered.

Her mother said they brought Ana to a safe place, a quiet country village, a leafy village, where the only sounds in the morning were the doves cooing.

No-one, she said, could suspect the "evil that lay in wait for her".

In sentencing the boys, the judge said Ana's murder had resulted in a "life-long sentence" for the Kriégels.

Reacting to the length of sentence, Ana's father Patric said: "For our part, we can only say that forever is not long enough."

It is impossible for the Irish public to know what will happen to her killers, but Ana will never get the chance to grow up and fulfil her dreams.

She will be forever 14.

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