Mary Bell's crimes are as shocking today as they were 50 years ago


The date was 17 December 1967 and an 11-year-old girl sobbed uncontrollably in a Newcastle court.  Not a victim of a crime. But a double killer who’d just been sentenced to be detained for life.

Mary Bell had taken the lives of two little boys. Martin Brown, 4, was found dead in a derelict house in May of that year. The remains of Brian Howe, 3, were discovered on waste ground two months later. The letter ‘M’ had been carved into his stomach.

Mary’s playmate – who had faced the same charges, but was acquitted – gave evidence against her. The child told the court Mary had throttled little Brian to death, ignoring pleas to stop. Martin was killed in a similar heartless fashion.

The court heard young Mary committed the sickening crimes ‘solely for the pleasure and excitement of killing’. Acquitted of murder down to diminished responsibility, she was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to life in detention, with the judge saying she was ‘at very grave risk to other children.’

An older Mary (PA Photos)

An older Mary (PA Photos)

But at the age of 23, Mary Bell was released. Four years after, she had a daughter and was given a new identity to protect her offspring. In 2009, Mary Bell became a grandmother and the order was extended to protect that child too.

The family of her victims were outraged by the news. Martin Brown’s mother had a devastating message for Mary, telling the Press: ‘She took my blessing and left me with grief for the rest of my life. I hope when she looks at this child she remembers the two she murdered… I hope every time she looks at this baby she realises what my family are missing out on because of what she has done.’