THE warning signs were there, and they were there for a long time. They were simply not picked up.

A boy of 12 raped his teacher after years of his own sexual torment at the hands of his mother.

Brought up for much of his life in a single-parent household, his childhood was anything but stable.

And the picture of his disturbing upbringing was highlighted graphically before he was ordered to be detained indefinitely by a judge yesterday.

The boy's barrister, John Evans, described the case as tragic and said it was wrong to label him a "beast", as one newspaper report had.

He said it was vital that the public knew the boy's history and that people were able to make a balanced judgement on the case.

Born in 1991, the boy's parents separated two years later and, by the age of three-and-a-half, concerns were being expressed by his paternal grandmother about his "sexualised behaviour" and the standard of care he was receiving from his mother.

Mr Evans said: "Even at that age, his general practitioner was expressing concern that he was under the influence of illicit substances."

A report prepared by a psychiatrist after the youngster was arrested shows he was being encouraged to abuse alcohol and cigarettes at about this time.

Mr Evans said: "He was simulating sexual intercourse and oral sex on his teddy bear at an age of less than four."

He said such behaviour would be difficult to explain if the boy came from an ordinary family, but which could be explained when people knew he was being physically and sexually abused.

The boy's mother, in her 30s, is still serving a prison sentence for the attacks after she was found guilty by a jury at Newcastle Crown Court in May 2002.

Mr Evans said: "It became clear from the evidence that was presented that there had been massive neglect and unquestioned abuse of one kind or another.

"A truly appalling start to life, and it would seem unfortunate that even in the mid-90s, when all of those problems were there for many people to see, the treatment which is now being proposed was not given consideration at that time.

"One cannot know what impact that might have had upon his conduct in the years that have passed since, but one could well imagine they may well have had an impact on someone who up until that stage had received precious little guidance of any kind.

"Some might say that the signs were there, that he was being significantly let down. He was massively damaged already at that age and, unhappily, let down by many people around him."

The boy, originally from Tyneside, was living in Darlington with carers at the time of the attack, and was receiving special education after he was excluded from mainstream school for what police describe as inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Social services chiefs yesterday promised a review of the case, and revealed they have asked a barrister to look at any improvements that can be made to the way they care for children, and to prepare a report.

The chairman of the Gateshead Area Child Protection Committee, Simon Hart, said: "At the time of this incident, there appears to have been nothing to indicate he was a risk to adults.

"A summary of the report, its key findings and any recommendations will be made public by the committee as soon as possible.

"This will help all the organisations involved to determine any improvements that could be made to their procedures.

"The review will be completed quickly and we expect the outcome to be made public by early June."