Man tried to wash foul-mouthed boy’s mouth out with soap – after child tried to kick old man’s stick away

Is it acceptable to wash a boy's mouth out for swearing?
Is it acceptable to wash a boy's mouth out for swearing?
  • Boy tried to kick away old man’s stick
  • Man confronted boy – and was met with tirade of swearing
  • Defendant bought soap from shop – and tried to wash boy’s mouth out
  • Mum says ‘kids do that kind of thing’
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A man tried to wash a six-year-old boy’s mouth out with soap after being sworn at by the youngster who had tried to kick an old man’s walking stick away, a court heard.

Ryan Joseph Birtwell was angered by the boy’s foul-mouthed outburst in a park near his home.

When the boy continued to swear, Birtwell, 23, went to a nearby shop and bought a three-bar pack of soap, before returning to the park, pinning the boy to the ground and shoving a bar of soap in his face.

The boy later told his family of the incident, which happened at about 7.30pm on April 11, and they contacted police.

Prosecutor Glenda Beck told Sunderland Magistrates’ Court: “The injured party was playing in the park which is close to his home address.

“The defendant approached him and there was an exchange of words.

“The defendant went to a shop and returned with a bar of soap. He pinned the injured party down to the floor and pushed the bar of soap into his mouth.”

Ms Beck added that a witness in the park at the time of the incident said Birtwell had been called a “gay boy” by the boy.

The witness heard Birtwell say he was going to buy some soap and “wash his mouth out with it”. Jason Smith, mitigating, told magistrates: “Ryan is walking along the road minding his own business. He is a young man who is very affable.

“He sees the boy run across to an old gentleman with a stick and tries to kick the stick away.

“He remonstrates with him to which the boy – who the police, I have to say, accept that he is slightly out of control and perhaps not the best of young individuals – says to Ryan ‘f*** off’.

“Ryan says to him to stop swearing and when he doesn’t he says back ‘stop swearing or I will wash your mouth with soap,’ something that used to happen in the good old days.

“He fully accepts in hindsight that that was not the best way to react. All Ryan was trying to do was teach the little boy some manners.

“Unfortunately, manners are in short supply nowadays.”

Birtwell, of Horsley Road, Barmston, Washington, admitted assault and was given a 12-month conditional discharge. He was also ordered to pay £85 court costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

After the case, the boy’s mother said: “Things are not as bad as have been said.

“I admit that my son swore and he got wrong for that, but like I said to the police at the time, kids do that kind of thing.

“At the end of the day, he is a 23-year-old bloke who has assaulted a six-year-old. The sentence is a joke.”

After the case, Peter Bradley, director of Kidscape, which tackles bullying and safeguarding issues in relation to children, said: “I think the main message that people should take from this case is that adults are adults and they should act appropriately when dealing with children.

“If a child is acting in the wrong manner then it has to be dealt with in the appropriate ways.

“In this instance, without doubt Ryan was wrong, but hopefully some support has been put in place so that this boy can learn from his actions too.”

What you thought:

The case prompted a mixed response from Echo readers on our Facebook page.

Many were quick to point out that children should not be physically assaulted in such a way, while others had sympathy for Birtwell.

Ash Lea wrote: “You can’t physically abuse a child for bad behaviour.” Zoe Lee said: “If it was not his child then I think it’s wrong.”

Sharon Humphries posted: “If this wasn’t his child then he’s in the wrong. It was up to the parents to discipline him.

“Youngsters need to be reminded how to respect there elders, but having said that, at six years old he’s still yet to learn.”

Leanne Askew posted: “That’s a old method a filthy mouth gets washed with soap. Maybe they should be asking why the kid is behaving in such a disgusting age and especially at the age of 6.”

Sarah Elizabeth Shona Larsson added: “I would have got a clip around the ear for the swearing.”

Lisa Mason wrote: “We always got threatened with it. But we never got it done as I was well behaved. It prevented you from doing it as no one wants to eat soap haha!”